Thursday, December 31, 2015

Shifting Momentum

One year ago, I struck up a plan to change my life. I had spent 18 and a half years working in a job that was bringing me more and more misery with each passing year. Instead of things getting better the way you think they would as you gain experience and skill, things seemed like they were steadily getting worse. I was simply miserable. I was filled with anger and resentment, and I despised going to work everyday. I had dreams - big dreams, that weren’t coming true. But I was stuck. When you have a mortgage and bills, you need a way to meet those obligations. Teaching was my way, but it had turned into something that I dreaded. I was fighting against it, banging my head, longing to be somewhere else.

My life had become filled with a lot of “what if”s, “only if”s, and “if only”s. I wasn’t living the life that I wanted. I needed a shift. I needed a way out. For years, I had kept saying, “When I save enough money” or “When I can book enough workshops, I’ll step away from teaching and live the life I keep imaging”. But life had a habit of getting in the way, eating up extra money, and keeping me stuck in a job I dreaded. How could I step away from this misery and into the life I dreamt about? I needed a plan and I needed to shift my momentum.

So, a year ago, I came up with a plan. I’d give myself another year and a half to shift the momentum and find an exist strategy. I’d put in other year and half of teaching, for a total of 20 years, and I’d step away. I just couldn’t see teaching another eleven or twelve years before I was eligible to retire, and I needed to shift things. If things continued the way they had been going, I’d never be able to step away. So, I thought long and hard. I journaled and I brainstormed. I had to figure out what I wanted and how to make that happen. The simple fact is that I need to make money to meet my obligations. But how to do that as an artist, writer, and workshop leader?

I finally figured that if I could get something steady going - something that was in some way reliable. Selling art, teaching workshops here and there just isn’t all that reliable unless you can sell a bunch of your art and sell out the classes you teach. I needed something else. Something that I could do while I continued as a teacher. I hit upon the idea of offering online workshops. Dave and I had done some small things - webinars for a variety of organizations, video tutorials and workshop type stuff for some other folks. We put together PowerPoints and videos, and I kept thinking, “Hey, we could do something like that for ourselves.” That was it. If I could offer a series of online workshops, that might be somewhat reliable. So I gave myself a year - a year to cobble together an online workshop. I decided that this needed to be part of my bigger scheme to shift momentum and step away from teaching.

Over the last twelve months, I’ve slowly worked on a workshop here and there when I’ve had time. I had to figure out a whole lot along the way because I really had no idea what I was doing - I still have no idea. I don’t know how it compares to others, but I really don’t care. I’m doing my thing the best I know how, and I know there are people who will like it, love it, and share it. I’m putting it out into the world - tomorrow actually. We’ll see how it resonates with others.

But this isn’t about the workshop. This is about what has happened in the mean time as I have shifted my focus. The thing is that through a lot of little things - tiny steps, I have seen things slowly change for me and the Journals Fodder Junkies. We’ve attracted nearly 400 new followers to the JFJ Facebook page. We’ve been booked to do more workshops - especially Art and Soul in Portland, Oregon and Virginia Beach, VA. I’ve posted more on the blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram. I’ve made the JFJ a bigger presence in the world of social media, and I’ve made a lot of artwork. But those are just statistical successes - outward appearance type things. 

The biggest surprise has been the change within myself over the last year. I realize that I have become more present lately. I have become more focused on the Now - the moment that is happening right here and right now. I realize now that a lot of the misery that I felt was because I was so focused on how things hadn’t worked out in the past, and how I wanted to be somewhere else entirely. I was caught resenting the past, and worrying about the future. I had no energy to focus on the Now. I was creating the misery and the suffering by not being in the present moment. But that has shifted. I have become much more aware of the here and now.

I still have a goal for the future, but I’m focusing on the practical and tangible steps that I need to do right here and right now. As long as I focus on that, as long as I realize that I can only be where I am, then things seem to go more smoothly and I am much more at peace. Actually, I have discovered just how happy I am. The misery that I felt over the last few years has faded. This has actually been one of my best, if not the best year that I’ve ever had as a teacher. There are still plenty of frustrating things that happen and are happening in the teaching profession, but as long as I stay present, and not let the complaining and moaning overtake me, I am much more satisfied. I am no longer waiting for the day when I can do what I want. I am doing it right now. I am creating the life that I have been dreaming about for so long. I’m still teaching. That’s something I need to do still to make the bills, but I have a plan. The momentum is shifting, and I am finding joy and happiness by staying present. I need to remember that the journey is the destination, and I have to be where I am and not resent where I have been and worry about where I will be.

Here. Now. That’s all there is. I am finding ways to share, to connect, to have purpose right here right now.

Here’s to the continued shift in momentum and to staying present.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Look Behind the Scenes of an Online Workshop

Almost a year ago, I began a journey of putting together my first online workshop, Cultivating Creativity. I gave myself a year knowing that it would be a lot of work, and with teaching full-time, providing seminars and workshops all over the place, and not to mention making my own art, I knew it would take me a while to get it all together. So, with just two and a half weeks until the workshop launches, I wanted to share a peek behind the scenes.

I began the journey in late December of last year, by plotting and scheming in my journal. I wrote, I made lists, I made mind maps, and I brainstormed. I decided to take a workshop that David I had designed for Art Unraveled, and use it as a basis for my first foray into the online workshop world. I expanded the content, added more techniques, and developed a sequence.

After the initial planning, I decided to dive into making some of the step-by-step written directions that would accompany videos. For some of the initial photoshoots, I even used my phone, but switched later to a tripod mounted digital SLR.

Once the photos were done, it was time to begin creating the PDFs of the written directions. I've decided on making step-by-step directions similar to what can be found in our books, but with a lot of new and different ideas. I also decided to include cheat sheets - a "techniques at a glance" kind of thing.

And then came the filming. Using a Flip Video camera that I got several years ago that I mount on a homemade arm attached to my tripod, I film each technique. I work in silence with the plan to add a voiceover later, but you will hear the occasional airplane flying over or dog barking. Filming in my studio presents several problems. First, my studio is an uninsulated garage, and it gets stifling hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. Second, since there is no insulation, outside noises and sounds can filter through, so I always have to pick a time when the neighbors aren't mowing their yards, or our dogs aren't in the backyard barking their little furry heads off. Lastly, the garage is detached from the house with no running water or bathroom. But it's all working out well.

One of the final things is to edit the videos and do the voiceovers explaining each technique.

I wish that I could say that I'm finished with everything - that I have used the last 12 months effectively, but I can't. I still have a whole lot to do over the next two and a half weeks. I still have a few videos to film and about half of the instructions to make. But I am confident that I'll have it up and running come January 1. With a two week break from school starting this weekend, I have plenty of time to get the work done.

If you missed out on the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, you can still save on the regular price of the workshop. Check out the website for more information.

Monday, December 7, 2015


Over the past few days, I felt compelled to reflect on recent tragic events. What follows is my rambling reflection on the state of our world that has lead to repeated death and destruction across the globe.

I am tired of the fear, the anger, the hatred, and the ignorance that is so prevalent around me in the world today. My soul hangs heavy as my heart beats with anxiety and sorrow, and I see a world full of conflict and division. How did we get here?

In our contemporary times we are all so separate, so isolated. Despite the wonders of technology that keep us connected to news, to information, and to each other 24/7, and despite the proliferation of texting and social media, we find ourselves more and more isolated and more and more disconnected from each other. This technology adds layers of insulation between us and those we interact with, and unfortunately, loneliness, depression, fear, and anger run more rampant in our technological age. This technology can never replace heart-to-heart and face-to-face connection. By relying so much on this technology, we become so much more removed from one another, and our tribes, families, and relationships have disintegrated. We are left with feelings of hollowness, mistrust, and dread, and we can feel so lost and disconnected in our lives.

This technology has also brought about another problem. We long to connect, yet we are fed a steady diet of anger, fear, hatred, violence, and destruction. It pours out of our tv, computer, and smart device screens. We are constantly bombarded with the endless chatter of hate and anger, and we are continually exposed to flashing images of war, death, and destruction. It makes us anxious, afraid, and uncertain. We begin to think that isolating ourselves is a good idea. We begin to seek distance and separation, the opposite of connection. We want to separate ourselves from other people and distance ourselves from those who are not like us. Our egos feed on this drama and misery. We are consumed by the vitriol of people spouting anger, bigotry, and fear. It gets inside of us, pits us against others, and makes us fear and hate. We lash out at others. We rant and rave, complain and vent, and the world becomes a scary place. The endless droning from the electric screens and the endless voices in our own heads convince us that it’s us against them - that people who are not like us are to be feared, hated, despised, and attacked. Hate fills us as we look at others as our enemies. We sling expletives, insults, and hurtful epithets.

Our egos feed on this separation, negativity, and sense of Us vs. Them. The ego puffs us up making us feel that only we are right, only we know the truth. The ego builds us up with the sense that we are superior and the others are inferior. The others are wrong, and worthy of our anger, our venom, our rage. But the ego also can break us down leading us to wallow in the misery as we convince ourselves that the world hates us. We build up the fences and walls to protect ourselves - to keep ourselves safely locked away - to keep the others out. There within our fences and walls, we feed the ego the anger, the misery, and the hatred, and we build the fences higher and the walls thicker. It’s us against them. We’re right, and they're wrong. We’re so lost in our own stories that we are beyond any hope of having a meaningful dialogue. We have shut out any kind of sense or rationality. We are right! They are wrong! Period! End of discussion! And the ego feeds and flourishes on this strong sense of identity. We lose our conscious mind, and the ego has complete control. We lose all sense of love and compassion. We only identify with those who feed our delusion - who feed the anger and the isolation. We cannot hear words of love and connection anymore.

This grand drama becomes routine. It’s us vs. them. We’re good, they're evil. We’re in the right, and they’re in the wrong. Hate and anger pour from us. We verbally attack, and all sides spew their hatred, and spew their propaganda. We cannot hear through the noise. We cannot open our minds or our hearts because we are under a constant barrage as others incite us, insult us, rile us up, and unload their hatred. We retaliate. We bombard our enemies with our own wounding words, our own justifications, our own bigotry and hatred. We look to cut into our enemies, to hurt them with our words, to denigrate and insult. It becomes a shouting match. He who shouts loudest wins!

And at some point, it all boils over. The anger and hatred burst forth in some act of violence and death. Are we truly surprised at the mass shootings and acts of terrorism and aggression that happen on a regular basis? How can we be, when we have spent so much time and energy cultivating the hate, feeding the anger, and pushing people away? We create the world in our own image, and these acts of violence and aggression only go to prove our point. We spiral deeper into the hate separating ourselves even more. We demonize and dehumanize those who are different. It makes it easier to spew the venom and anger filled rhetoric. It makes it easier to attack, maim, and kill.

No wonder it’s an easy leap from words to bullets and bombs. Our egos have convinced us that we are purely in the right. So, we go to war. We justify killing and death both on an individual level and on a national level. That ends the conversation, and it puts a dramatic exclamation point on our argument. We justify death and destruction because the voice of the ego has fed on the drama, the hate, the justifications. The voice convinces us that we are irrevocably right, and so we are justified to act out. We are justified in our own minds to kill - to end the life of others because we are so intwined in the fantasy of us vs. them that pulling a trigger or detonating a bomb is the only logical thing left to do.

In our day and age, how is it that we are still at this point where individuals and nations see that the only viable solution is violence and killing? Our history is filled with this death and destruction. Why have we not learned, grown, and evolved?

We all begin our journey in this world seeking connection. Early in life, we all want the love and the comfort of our mothers and fathers. We all want the acceptance and respect of our family and our peers. We all seek connection, but if we’re not careful, we end up seeking separation and conflict. We find isolation, fear, and loneliness instead. We find a strange comfort in aligning ourselves with the hate and the anger of others, and the cancer of violence grows and spreads. Separation feeds the cancer.

That’s not the world that I want to live in - one of hate and fear. I want connection, love, and compassion. I want to build a community of diversity and respect. I want a world of light and love, not hate and darkness. Connection, compassion, and understanding are the only way to end the cycle of violence and fear that grips our world.

I will continue to seek connection, and I will continue to spread love, compassion, and understanding.