On finding your calling

The YOSC: Entry #12

I’m doing something a little different this week, in honour of The 100 Day Project. This year’s project is fast approaching, set to start on the 4th (tomorrow)! The 100 Day Project is a great, big, global art project and celebration of creativity, shared through social media. It’s as simple as this – pick a creative action, any teensy, tiny action – write something, draw something, take a picture, knit a row, dance a letter of the alphabet – whatever you please, do it every day for 100 days, and share it with the rest of the community. Everything you need to know to participate can be found in delightful hand-lettering here.

It’s fun, but beyond that there is something really special about the community of people rallying together to live creatively. This will my third year giving it a go, and I really like it. Actually, to be honest my first project two years ago kind of changed my life.

My first 100 Day Project was to letter and illustrate a quote I’d heard in the previous 24 hours. Mostly, I recorded the magic words and phrases toddler Jonah was spouting.

It was 2015, Jonah was almost three, and I was pregnant with Alida. Elle Luna, who spearheaded the project, had just come out with a book called The Crossroads of Should and Must (I wrote about it here). The book is basically about learning to be honest with yourself and grabbing on to what’s deep in your heart, or your calling, in the midst of all the shoulds, those many things we tell ourselves make more sense, that we have to do, the myriad reasons we can’t pursue what’s truly meaningful to us, our musts. I read the book with a couple of friends while doing the project and journaled my reflections each week, posting them to Instagram. Elle saw the reflections, and asked if I would mind answering some questions to provide some insight on how people could use and benefit from the book. It took me a while, but eventually I wrote back, and in my characteristic oversharing style, composed a small memoir, lol. I thought I would share some of that with you.

Learning to take myself seriously as a creative has been a huge part of the happiness/wholeness puzzle for me. It’s comparable to how I felt when Achim entered my life, like there was a particular, curious void before that just vanished. I think my answers to Elle’s questions tell that story in a way that might be helpful and encouraging to anyone else looking for their must.

Questions in bold are from Elle, answers in italics are me!

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How did you hear about the book?

I think I heard you on the Smart Creative Women podcast (now Smart Creative Art), and sometimes something just kind of sparkles. I had already stumbled on the 100 Day project and it felt weirdly serendipitous that you [Elle Luna] were on the podcast. I have honestly done this only twice (once with you, once with Andy J. Millers creative mornings talk), but I listened twice in a row. I think I was even working on the project while listening. I had just told a friend about The 100 Day Project and she liked the idea too, so we decided to do it together, and then when I heard the little deal you had mentioned on the podcast, where if you got a copy for you and a friend you’d get a little choose must art, I thought, “perfect!” so I bought it for both of us right that minute. It looked so beautiful on the Smart Creative Women page, I had to, really. 😉
At what point did you make the decision to do weekly work around the book? Why?
I was living in Germany at this point, and I didn’t have much creative community around me, and I wanted it. I was looking for a different kind of connection, something was missing. I was happy, but restless. And in a way, I felt like I was more myself on Instagram than I was able to be in real life, what with the language barrier and all, and just… I was in a place where there was some part of me that wasn’t being fulfilled. It seems so obvious now, lol, but at that time it wasn’t so clear. I was at home with my toddler and expecting another baby, and I knew shit was going to just go ahead and get crazier pretty soon… the magic of walking side by side with this little boy was going to evolve into something more complex and just different and there was still this big puzzle piece missing. I remember my mother said something about how parenting could be my creative outlet now and it made me angry. And I loved my baby! But something was still missing. I was still looking for something, and I didn’t know what it was, but the nebulous poetry around choosing must, it resonated. I think I posted a picture of the book on Instagram and a girl with whom I felt a real kinship, based on our Instagram relationship commented that she had just bought the book too, somehow we decided to read together, and do visual reflections and post them. Something about connecting with someone else who was drawn to the same thing felt really refreshing, even exciting. I asked the friend whom I’d gotten the book for if she would like to join as well, and she did. So that was what we did.

Do you have a Should/Must crossroads that you can share? Or, is there a reason the book is resonating with you particularly right now, as opposed to, say, a few years ago?

I knew I was in this period of flux. I kind of just felt like I had no idea what I was doing. To jump back a few years, I had studied art, and loved it but left somehow feeling paralysed whenever I tried to “make art”. The stakes felt high somehow, too high. It wasn’t fun, it was stressful and unsatisfying. So I flitted around doing all kinds of other stuff, schlepping flowers, glitter painting dance costumes, an admin job, and working with kids with autism… I turned 25 and got romantically married to a German guy, we lived in a little teensy tiny sunlit attic apartment on a busy street in Toronto with white walls and old wooden floors that smelled like coffee all the time (because we never emptied our machine, ha) and I eventually went back to school and got a masters in occupational therapy, while he finished his PhD. In the middle of my studies I got unexpectedly pregnant and we felt liked kids having this baby! We hardly knew any parents, never did laundry, and basically subsisted on peanut butter apples and rice cakes with avocado. And coffee, of course. Ahh. Good times.
It was a little insane, but kind of magical too. We stayed in that teensy apartment for a little over a year with our baby boy, finishing our studies and just hacking it. It was kind of beautiful, that little sunlit winter basically spent chasing the sunlight around six square meters on our bellies, but it was lonely too, so I started using Instagram and found my way to blogs and generally timidly approached a warm creative community online, and it gave me a tiny venue to create again, in a little, tiny square photo kind of way.
And then we packed that tiny apartment into a container and moved to Germany. And it was exciting, but I started to grow more and more restless. I did a lot of manic craft projects, which were kind of like chasing a high, lol. They were fun, but never really satisfied. I started a blog too, which was also fun, and there were aspects of it that seemed to be hitting something, I had moments where I felt really inspired, but other times it felt hard, like I was trying to do something that wasn’t me. Slowly I started to realise that I was enjoying making the illustrations for my blog more than anything else, which I didn’t really want to admit. It felt trite. Wasn’t illustration the superficial sister to art? These silly little paper cuts and watercolours, they weren’t serious. I had a masters of science, now. And a lot of family responsibilities… I couldn’t seriously consider spending my non-existent time on this… But, still.
So as I slowly read your book, I was doing my 100 day project, where I illustrated a quote that I had heard in the previous 24 hours. My son was two going on three and a veritable font of magic words, so mostly I wanted to record what he said. I had never done this before – drawn a picture every day. It was really hard for me, but I was ridiculously motivated, I surprised myself. I almost felt silly, like, why are you drawing a little picture here instead of eating, Elena? Why are you staying up ’til midnight, pregnant, with a toddler who will run you ragged? But I was. And the response surprised me. It was nothing insane, but shocking for me, a bunch of people contacted me, saying really nice things. Gabrielle Blair from Design Mom shared one of my pages, and a thousand people started following. I felt kinda silly, but also, not so restless. I had more energy, not less.
As I was reading your book, I was having a love hate relationship with it. It’s hard, choosing must. I felt angry sometimes, like “BUT ELLE, WTF, I HAVE (almost) TWO BABIES! WHERE IS THE TIME?! THIS IS UNREALISTIC!!!!” But I also knew in its simplicity it was moving me towards something… And, well. It was.
It took some time, but this year I have slowly chipped away at finding my bliss. I make little snippets of art almost every day, I left my other IG account behind, as a precious little time capsule, and I have a new, illustration focused one, which feels so weirdly good. Lol, I feel like I had to come out of the closet as an illustrator! Ha. Mostly I make playful, moody little paper-cut girls, or edits from real life. Which sometimes doesn’t feel serious enough, and sometimes I feel phoney, and sometimes I feel pathetic, but then, I can’t deny that I am less restless than I have ever been, more satisfied than I have ever been… It’s just the beginning, but I feel like I have a place and a purpose, and the projects I am developing now feel real to me, they light me up. So there you go. How is that for having hit me at a crossroads? 

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…And the rest of the interview is more specific feedback on the book, so I’ve left it out. Yep, it was indeed a crossroads. In some ways, I’m still there, but in other ways I’m not. I would never have believed that I had the capacity to be as certain about a career path as I am. I’ve always been so flighty! But clearly I just hadn’t found what I was looking for. 🙂

Hope this offered some insight that’s helpful, relatable or at least interesting to you on your proverbial journey!


3 thoughts on “On finding your calling

  1. Linda powell

    All of the above. It’s what you actually do rather than what you feel you must do. The beginning of my journey was the same, predominantly sewing but also even in the early days when the children were small, doing collage art. Teaching gave me an income and confidence. Now my time is right to explore art more seriously, I now have time and a lot of support. You’ve found what works for you thank you for all your sharing. X

  2. Catriona Talbot

    So glad you’ve found your calling. Sometimes it takes awhile, and sometimes it’s more obvious to others than it is to oneself ;-), but it is so worth looking until you find it. I wish I’d paid more attention and found mine 40 years ago. I think I’m beginning to see it now, but it’s kinda late in the game.

  3. Anna

    It touches my heart reading this. Your road to really finding your thing and making the choice to follow your must. While reading I imagined your life being a great big pile of apples, coffee, laundry, baby and scientific literature which you had to sort through until you found, underneath it all, some of your illustrations. There they were and you needed some time realizing that making those illustrations is what you need to face and enjoy the rest of the pile of beautiful things. And I am very grateful that you share your fantastic artwork.


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