(Do not)open until . . .

Last May, I packed all my writing in a tall moving box.  It is taped up and buried behind all our luggage in the closet in my office/guest room.

The closet is stuffed with plastic-packed toilet paper rolls, outdated over the counter drugs,  random Band Aids, all the family towels (even all the beach ones shoved in a giant blue Ikea bag), a clothes steamer I’ve never used, which my mother gave me, the ironing board, a scale we bought for our German exchange student last year to weigh his luggage.  There is every manual to every appliance we own (except for the washer and drier, which I searched for last week, without any luck).  On the shelf, there is an unrolled sleeping bag and Katie’s old comforter, Mike’s hard hat and bright-blue safety suit for when he strolling through refineries. The closet also has (temporarily) all the Christmas presents I’ve bought, and have yet to wrap, stacked up against the luggage and the toilet paper packages.

This is no place for my best work.


In response to the second prompt for Week 4 of Quest 2016

Theme:  Doing your best work, Not Someone Else’s
Visionary:  Charlie Gilkey
Prompt:  “Which element of your best work do you most want to amplify this year?”

On January 1, 2016, I reveal The Story Box.

I rescue my writing.  I set out short imperfect, fragmented pieces, one by one, in no particular order, for readers who are guided to them.

(At least in the light,  there is some chance of growing.)

In doing so (in my being brave):

  • I risk opening my own Pandora’s Box
  • I risk being truly seen
  • I let go of the Story that’s haunted me for more than a decade
  • I protect my family from the horrifying task of “what should we do with your mother’s writing?” should I delay any further

This writing is my best work (not someone else’s), and it is my responsibility alone to release it, amplifying its rise out into the open, into the light . . .

“p.s.  You can’t stand out and fit in at the same time.”

[Thank you, for that PS, Charlie Gilkey.]


Charlie is a champion of and catalyst for Creative Giants – talented Renaissance souls with a compassion-fueled bias towards action. He’s the brain and heart behindProductive Flourishing, best-selling author of The Small Business Life Cycle (JETLAUNCH 2014), Ph.D. candidate in philosophy, and a former Army Logistics Officer. He’s driven to figure out how to help Creative Giants be their best selves in the world.


how to clarify


8450830_sTo clarify butter, you need to start with the unsalted kind and then heat on a low simmer, patiently skimming off foam until milk solids and water separate from it.

The golden liquid, which emerges, has a pure, clean flavor which won’t burn at high temperatures like regular butter.

(Thank you, Rachel Ray.)

So these are the early-morning wanderings of my mind avoiding the Quest 2016 question posed to us over the weekend . . .

Theme:  Prioritize your Value
Visionary:  Seth Brogan

Prompt:  How will you better clarify whom you serve and what you do for them in 2016#Serve

I remember that, for me last year, this was the toughest time with Quest 2016 – it became one of many shiny ribbons amid packages and cards and year-end work.  And while I looked over and admired it often from afar (oh yes, I need to do that, too), I tended not to go as deep in my reflections as earlier prompts.

Yet, it is important that I better understand whom I serve and what I offer.  At my workplace, this is clear.  In my creative life, not so much.  How will I clarify this in the new year?

What gentle, yet steady heat is necessary?



Be present.



Stand and share.
Heal others.

* * *

CHRIS BROGAN explores how people use content and community to build marketplaces around areas of belonging. He is CEO of Owner Media Group , providing simple plans and projects for business success. He is also a highly sought after professional speaker and the New York Times bestselling author of eight books and counting, including his forthcoming book, Insider: Strategies and Secrets for Business Growth in the Age of Distractions.

Work (what is it good for?)


Oh Quest 2016.

Not sure what this question (or this image!)  has to do with anything, but here you go.

Theme:  Prioritize your value
Visionary:  Sally Hogshead
Prompt:  Of these 3 options, which one is most important in your work right now:   (a) Quality of life (b) Quality of work (c)  Quality of compensation 

First thing I did was go to the on-line Merriam Webster dictionary to define the word “work”.   (I often approached college papers the same way – going deep, getting super clear on the topic, checking out its etymology)

noun \ˈwərk\
1:  activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something:  a:  sustained physical or mental effort to overcome obstacles and achieve an objective or result b:  the labor, task, or duty that is one’s accustomed means of livelihood  c:  a specific task, duty, function, or assignment often being a part or phase of some larger activity
Old English weorc, worc “something done, discreet act performed by someone, action (whether voluntary or required), proceeding, business;” also “military fortification,” from Proto-Germanic *werkan (cognates: Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Dutch werk, Old Norse verk, Middle Dutch warc, Old High German werah, German Werk, Gothic gawaurki), from PIE *werg-o-, from root *werg- “to do”


So next thing I know, that song “War” (good God) by Edwin Starr is in my head.  (If you don’t remember or know the song, here is a link to it.

Go ahead and click it.  Seriously.  It’s a great song.

And my brain (being so clever) is substituting the word “War” with “Work”

WORK , huh good God
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, say it again . . .”
(Read more: Edwin Starr – War Lyrics | MetroLyrics)

Truth is, I work full-time in (big bad) Corporate America.  There are a lot of good reasons why, but the most important one is compensation.

So guess that’s my answer: Option (c.) Quality of Compensation


But then, my husband Mike walks in to my office (*just as I am writing this)

I say “Listen to this” And then I play this  Work song  (uh, good God) and let him read Sally Hogshead’s prompt.

“Quality of work” he says.  No hesitation.

I rally back “Quality of Compensation”

“Oh really?”  (he is smiling that amused Mike smile).   “So that’s your focus, huh?   That’s why you’re up here working so late?  For a better raise?”

I’m nodding to myself.  Oh yea.  He’s right again.

“Okay, so it’s Quality of Work for me, too”

How about you?


SALLY HOGSHEAD is well-versed in understanding and leveraging your value by the way you captivate and influence those around you.

Sally is a Hall of Fame speaker, best-selling author, and a leading expert on fascination. Her clients have included Intel, Cisco, Million Dollar Round Table, GE, and Intuit. Her recent book How the World Sees You (#2 NYT, #1 WSJ) applies her research in the science of fascination to leaders and change-makers who want to be more of their best.

A shimmering web of wind


A piece of poetry emerged tonight – not my intended response to the Quest 2016 prompt offered today, but there you go.

The wind made me do it.

No apologies.

Theme:  Prioritize your value
Visionary:  JOHN JANTSCH

Prompt:  What can you stop doing in 2016 such that it would allow you to focus on higher payoff activities?

In 2016, I will stop apologizing for things that need no apology.

I will stop diminishing myself.

I will stop living in the land of intentions.

I will stop postponing action.

I will stop holding back.

How about you?  What can you stop doing next year?


I see the wind changing.
Pushing back on the river’s flow forward,
quickening its surface like poorly-ironed silk.

I hear the wind changing.
Threading itself through clusters of chimes, sounding like sea air, teasing and circling and rising before waves.  

I feel the wind changing.
Entering like a swirling potion of ether – wooing me, pricking tears at my eyes, sending my heart all-a-swoon.

Change comes.


John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author ofDuct Tape Marketing (Thomas Nelson 2011), Duct Tape Selling (Portfolio 2014), The Commitment Engine(Portfolio 2012), and The Referral Engine (Portfolio 2010) and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network. Twitter: @ducttape

Drawing by:  Nataliia Kozlova
(beautiful woman with birds in her hair (series C)

I will remember you


2939612_sI love Sarah MacLachlan’s song I will remember you – you will hear me singing it often to myself when I am holding the story I’ve yet to birth in my heart.  When I do that, I feel this beautiful feeling, this warm sense of something larger than I am inside.  The feeling is resonant of that sweet stretch of  an April day when I  knew my daughter Katie would be born, but chose to keep the knowledge secret, this constant, bearable labor – an echo of a Christmas Bible verse I love:

” But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Luke 2:19: 


On that early March day in 2006, when I was diagnosed with cancer, the reality that I might not be there for my kids and my family struck first like a hot iron thrust in my center – I’m not ready-I’m-not-ready-I’m-not-ready was all I felt, as these stormy waves of fear and sadness passed through me,  sweeping me under. 

On that same day, I also thought of the story I’m speaking of (the one in the box in the closet)  and panicked –  if I wasn’t here, no one else would write it, and the world would never know the profound impact this one child had had on my life.


That September,  I applied for a writing residency at Hedgebrook on Whidbey Island, WA.  It was my 4th or 5th time applying. Here is part of my essay:

The piece I am creating is, by its nature, going to be a painful, like birth I imagine.  The places that I will need to go in my heart and mind are dark and uncomfortable ones: the murder of a child; a mother’s struggle with post-partum depression; and the gaping-hole-in-the-heart that is September 11.  Being diagnosed with breast cancer last March was probably the best and worst thing ever to happen to me. Cancer broke me, forced me to look in the mirror at the woman and mother I had become.  I had not recognized how isolated I was; how much I was taking my children and family for granted; how little of life I was allowing myself to experience.  I had built an iron wall around my heart, dug a moat around my life, and kept the drawbridge up and closed.

I can write this story now because I am here and alive to tell it.

My application was rejected (wisely).  And while I began an application again the following September, but in the midst of divorce, I needed to let it go . . .


The truth is:  I am afraid.

I am afraid that once I finish this piece (the one boxed up in the closet marked: Open on Mother’s Day 2016), and it is out there in the world, I will have accomplished all I am have been called to do in this One Beautiful Life.  That  the cancer will come back.  That I will die.

[Typing this now, though, I can see the frayed and irrational connection my mind has made – between this story and my health. As though by not writing it, I could somehow  keep Death over there, at someone else’s door]

Sarah MacLachlan sings:
I’m so afraid to love you, but more afraid to lose

Clinging to a past that doesn’t let me choose
Once there was a darkness, deep and endless night
You gave me everything you had, oh you gave me light


I didn’t directly answer the Quest 2016 prompt this time.  Instead, this piece emerged  when I held on to Seth Godin’s question:

Theme:  Imagine Your Future While Being Wholly Present
Seth Godin

Prompt:  “Would they miss you if you were gone?  What would have to change for that question to lead to a better answer?”

Would they miss me if I were gone?  All depends on who “they” is.

  • My children & Mike and my parents and my family (and of course the dogs, but probably not the cat) would miss me.  So much so it breaks my heart to think of their pain.
  • The few friends I have would miss me.   A little bit. (I’ve kept myself hidden from them for the most part anyway)
  • My corporate work colleagues would be shocked and some sad, but only for a moment, barely a breath.   Sure, there would be a flurry of activity trying to piece together budgets and understand where things are and how to cover my role.  But soon it would be like I had never been there.  I know this.  I’ve watched death visit  here too many times, in my 22+ year career.
  • Readers here might miss me  though, the sad truth is that they wouldn’t really know how much.   Because I don’t show up consistently for them.  And up to this point, I have not been  brave enough to finish the story and send it out into the world: to race it down the beach – smiling, laughing, child-like – to catch the breeze and to watch it rise and hold, and then hold and hold, tugging at its string – this soaring beauty cast against a wider sky.

The birth of the story I am to write has required an unusually long gestation and a great love.  It will also require great courage.


Seth Godin is the author of 18 books that have been bestsellers around the world and have been translated into more than 35 languages. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything.


Beyond beauty

daydreaming/dreaming day

The summer I was 17, I wandered on to the campus of a prestigious women’s college in Western Massachusetts.  [I ended up graduating from this same school, but that is another story]

I fell in love with this campus, the idyllic beauty of it:  its castle-like buildings with towers and leaded glass;  its Upper Lake  rushing into more sedate Lower Lake; the stone bridge in the woods near the horse stables;  the college’s formal gardens pooled at the bottom of a long stretch of  wooden stairs; its Victorian greenhouse of whitened-glass, iron, and meringue-like tops ; its chapel bell mellow and slow in its chiming, marking each quarter hour, as though time itself stretched longer there; leaves stirring high above in hundred-year old trees, a place quiet yet not, a sacred beauty in which to learn.

Beyond its beauty, though, the school was steeped in tradition.  I loved that in every dorm there was a grand piano (even though I didn’t play), and that there could be such a day as Mountain Day.  [A gift, bestowed on students by the college president, on one day in October – a postcard-perfect one – heralded  by the constant ringing of the chapel bell in the early morning hours. There would be no classes that day because New England’s foliage was just too beautiful to stay inside.   Many students would travel by van to nearby  Mount Holyoke, the college’s namesake, to climb to its peak and savor the view across the valley]

So what does all this reminiscing have to do with Quest 2016?  and the prompt gifted to us by SCOTT BARRY KAUFMAN who is the scientific director of the Imagination Institute.

Theme:  Imagine Your Future to Be Wholly Present
Visionary:  Scott Barry Kaufman

Prompt:  “What recurring daydream for 2016 inspires you to do business as unusual like never before?”

Well, my recurring daydream is tied to Mount Holyoke and one of its traditions:  M&Cs (or Milk & Crackers).  Basically, every night – at around 9 or 9:30 pm – everyone would stop  studying and walk downstairs – even in pajamas (when I was there they were Lanz nightgowns) – to the dorm kitchen for M&Cs  (we always hoped for cookies or graham crackers with peanut butter).  You would get your snack and  either head back up to your room, or you could sit and laugh with friends, or talk about a paper you were struggling with, or listen to someone trying out their Russian or Japanese language skills.   The tradition fostered community, helped reduce isolation.

My daydream. over the last year or so,  has been to  create  a 1-hour, weekly M&C’s inspired  event.  I have dreamed of  hosting it in the Naperville Women’s Club because every time I drive by its building, it makes my heart happy and reminds me of my alma mater (and oh, I love its purple door).  I’m not a member there, nor do I feel a great desire to be right now, but I long for the companionship of women friends, who are also busy with their full lives, have limited time, and maybe just long for a quick moment to connect, take a breath, and then get back to it, same as I do.  I envision the event as an easy-as-warm-flannel kind , one that demands nothing of you, but that you show up as yourself and be as present or as day-dreamy as you like.


Naperville Women’s Club and its purple door

Founded in 1897, the Naperville Woman’s Club (NWC) is one of the longest-standing organizations in Naperville.  The club represents six generations of women whose goal was and is to enrich their community, form friendships, and engage in lifelong learning. 


Scott Barry Kaufman is scientific director of the Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, where he investigates the measurement and development of intelligence, imagination, and creativity.

You are enough




I opted to create a video in response to this prompt (inspired by fellow Quester Brenna Layne)

Theme:   Imagine Your Future To Be Wholly Present
Visionary:  Dr. Tina Seelig

Prompt:  “What advice would your future self a year from now give you today?”

It is a mid-December night in 2016.  Mike and I have just finished decorating the tree and it is quiet in the house and dark.  I am watching the lights spark against the just hung ornaments, and am alone in my favorite reading chair . . .

* * *

Dr. Tina Seelig is a faculty director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP), the entrepreneurship center at Stanford University’s School of Engineering. She teaches courses on creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship in MS&E and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. She has written 17 books and educational games, includinginGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity (2012) and Insight Out (2015), both published by HarperCollins (and both highly recommended).