A long-time favorite author of mine, Brian Zahnd, is releasing a really important book soon, and I have had the immense honor of designing the cover! The book is called Postcards from Babylon: The Church in American Exile, and it is set to release in January 2019. Stay tuned for more details and fun stuff like a giveaways :)
People talk a lot about finding and following your passion these days, but I have to side with Elizabeth Gilbert on this one. Liz – author of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear – claims that curiosity, rather than passion, is the key to living an interesting, creative life.
Following your passion is a romantic pursuit, and if you have a passion – particularly one that somehow easily translates into helping you pay your bills – then by all means go for it. But not everyone knows what their passion is, and even if you do know, passions aren’t really known for their powers of sustainability. I think I’ve had about 150 different passions in my short lifetime. Maybe a couple have been consistently present this whole time, but it’s taken me almost 30 years to really identify those.
Passion or no passion, everyone can be curious. Most of us came by this naturally as children. It’s a capacity we can and must recover in ourselves if we are to realize our creative potential as adults. Remember that game you could spontaneously launch into while riding in the car as a kid? The Why Game?
Why is the sky blue, Mrs. Betty?
Well Sarah, the blue light from the sun collides with molecules in the air and….
Well the Earth orbits around the sun, and …
The game could go on forever. It was a playful way to be a pain in the ass without getting in trouble, sure, but I was always somewhat genuinely curious about the answers to all those why questions. I’d surprise myself sometimes by how far the string of questioning could go, and sometimes it’d take me into territory I’d never previously thought to enter. The questions themselves were vehicles into new realms of ideas – and more questions.
Creativity isn’t only about expression. It’s just as much about discovery. And to discover, we must ask questions. Curiosity fuels the art of asking questions. It renders your experience of the world interesting and opens our eyes to the value, depth, and complexity of all that you encounter. It feeds into the art of paying attention, kicking our sense perceptions into high gear and prompting us to collect whatever new information we can about ourselves, another person, topic, place, or activity.
Eventually, following the trail that your curiosity takes you on may lead to finding “your passion,” and that’s wonderful. Though even if it doesn’t or if it just takes a while, you’ll have had an engaging journey with tons of material for creativity, understanding, and maybe some new friends collected along the way. Even the great Albert Einstein claimed to have little in the way of talent, only passionate curiosity…and look where that got him.
Interesting people are interested people. Conversely, bored people are boring people.
Are you interested in the world around you? What about the world within you? You never have to be bored again. Get a little curious, pay a little closer attention, and you’ll unlock layers of interesting realities that’ll keep you occupied for years to come. Really. I don’t think I’ve been bored in over 10 years.
Curiosity teaches us a few more things that are essential to artful living. First, curiosity requires humility. To readily seek out more information, you have to admit that you don’t have all the information. Saying “I don’t know” can be so liberating and can lead you into a rewarding process of investigative learning. Additionally, curiosity can form in us a habit of perceiving the unknown with positive regard rather than with fear or disdain. Our life can expand as we follow our curiosity rather than shrink around increasingly rigid boundaries of what’s right or wrong, safe or unsafe, for you or against you. The expert on this, Elizabeth Gilbert, even goes so far as to claim that a creative life is “any life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” Finally, curiosity forms us in the way of empathy – which begins with asking yourself what it might feel like to be another person. Connection through this curiosity about each other must start with curiosity about ourselves. We must have some honest grasp on our own felt experience to have something with which to relate to another’s experience.
So how do you cultivate curiosity?
Here are two practices that might be helpful:
- Midrash. I borrow this term respectfully from the Jewish tradition. One type of midrash in Judaism includes investigating a scriptural text by asking every possible question one can come up with about it. This process inspires theological creativity, often resulting in the rabbis writing additional parables and stories to fill in the gaps of a text or to shed new light on it. No questions are prohibited and no one right answer is expected to surface. The text is the beginning of generative conversation in this tradition, unlike in Christianity where it tends to be the end of conversation, purported as the final word. I find this approach fascinating and invaluable not only in relation to sacred texts. I think this is a practice with which we can engage many things. Are you confused about a situation? Sit down and write out as many questions as you possibly can about it. See where it takes you. Working on a project? Don’t understand a pattern of behavior you keep repeating? Not sure what to believe about something? Making a big life decision? Don’t understand a friend or family member? Midrash it. It takes some practice to build up these curiosity muscles. Sometimes I’m appalled by how few questions I can come up with initially, but stick with it. It’s worth the effort.
- Beginner’s Mind. The great Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, once said, “Be willing to be a beginner every morning.” This wise instruction is an echo of the Zen Buddhist concept of beginner’s mind. Think about how you approach subjects or activities when you are a beginner versus when you feel like an expert. What’s different about the two postures? A beginner’s mind lacks preconceived notions, prejudices, and judgements. It is present to the moment, open to the experience, and ready to learn. This mindset breeds curiosity, creativity, and forming deeper connections with those around you. An expert’s mind is fixed. Its perceptions are not easily altered, and it is all but shut down to change, novel observations, or new lines of questioning. Where in your life would you benefit from a renewal of this beginner’s mindset? Perhaps write Meister Eckhart’s quote on a notecard and place it somewhere you will see it each morning reminding you to approach your day as a beginner. See what opens up for you! I'll be doing the same.
*offer good through Jan. 28, 2018
The above text is an excerpt from my in-progress manuscript of a book about artful living through lenses of creativity, connection, and community. More excerpts to follow in this blog series titled Artful Living.
Here's the Deal
I love reading this book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert, to kickstart a new year with extra doses of bravery, curiosity, & creativity! I love it so much that I want to share a copy so it can hopefully offer the same to you as you embark on your new year...
This is so simple. Just subscribe to my email newsletter list before January 28th here:
I've recently made some adjustments that have opened up a whole lot more time for creative work. It'll be a big year ahead, and I've got lots I want to share with you. To that end I'm reviving this monthly newsletter, which I've been away from for about 2 years. I can't wait to reconnect with those of you already on the list and to welcome new folks into the fold. Writing these used to be one of my favorite things to do, and I'm stoked about getting back to it!
As a part of my list: You'll be among the first folks to hear about new projects and have access to perks like free resources, new music, early pre-orders, discounts, and exclusive material sent just for you. And best of all, you get priority access to my inbox...I look forward to the conversations we all might have this year.
You'll hear from me once monthly at minimum (the last Monday of each month) and occasionally about special happenings in between. I promise I won't waste your time...I know everybody gets too many emails these days, so I'll only send you what I think might be most valuable for you.
- If you're already on my newsletter list, you're automatically entered into the drawing!
- I'll announce the winner on Monday Jan. 29 via that day's email.
- BONUS CHANCES: If you really want the book (or you just really want to help connect me with folks who might be interested in my work...which I greatly appreciate, by the way)...you can get your name put in up to 3 times! Here's how. After subscribing...
- LIKE my new business page on Facebook at: facebook.com/sarahduet. (It's under construction but will be fully up & running later this month.)
- SHARE a photo on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook talking about the giveaway with the hashtag #BigMagicBigYear in the caption. (Feel free to copy the one at the top of this post or download one here or here.)
- **#'s 1 & 2 each get your name put in the drawing 1 more time, up to 3 total.
Thanks for playing! Here's to a curious, brave, & creative 2018...
The 29 books of 2017
I read 29 books cover to cover in 2017...which is 1 for each year I've been alive & 5 more than my goal of 24 for the year. This tally doesn't include books referenced, books started but not finished, audio books, articles, etc. It may not seem impressive at all to some of you, but as much as I read, finishing books has been a challenge in recent years. I'm really excited about having gotten back into a steady reading habit and look forward to sharing an even longer list in 2018!
Titles, authors, & links are listed below if you're curious or want to check out any for yourselves!
- Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron
- Einstein on Cosmic Religion and Other Opinions and Aphorisms by Albert Einstein
- Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
- The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation by Richard Rohr
- Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West by Benjamin Riggs
- Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life by Makoto Fujimura
- Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire
- There’s No Good Card for This: What to Say and Do When Life is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love by Emily McDowell & Dr. Kelsey Crowe
- Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
- The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings by John Phillip Newell
- What is the Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything by Rob Bell
- Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu translated by Stephen Mitchell
- How To Be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living by Rob Bell
- Facing the Music: My Story by Jennifer Knapp
- What We Talk About When We Talk About God by Rob Bell
- The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer
- Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman
- Chalked Up: My Life in Elite Gymnastics by Jennifer Sey
- Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church by The Investigative Staff of the Boston Globe
- Sacred Energies: When the World’s Religions Sit Down to Talk About the Future of Human Life and the Plight of This Planet by Daniel C. Maguire
- Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown
- The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves by Curt Thompson
- Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor by Joseph Campbell
- How to Make it in the New Music Business by Ari Herstand
- No Booker, No Bouncer, No Bartender by Shannon Curtis
- Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything by Aly Raisman
- Triangle by Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Jon Klassen
- Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers
- Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts by Ryan Holiday
I had the privilege of participating in this event with 2 of my favorite people/writers at Centenary College here in Shreveport, LA on October 24, 2017. Music was played (by me), poetry recited (by Jennifer Strange), and books read (by Michelle Junot).
Below, listen to the audio of Michelle reading from her most recent memoir (a self-portrait constructed entirely from content in the Notes app on her iPhone) and from the panel discussion among the 3 of us about all things art-making, vulnerability, work and "real" jobs, the value (and confusion) of liberal arts education, health, etc.
Hope you enjoy!
...and you probably want to read it. Here's why:
Whether you're one of the many of us who's become acquainted with the debilitating weight of this struggle personally or one of the many who's walked with us (your loved ones, coworkers, friends, patients, etc.) through the depths, few of us are left as strangers to depression these days. And whatever category you might find yourself in, I strongly recommend this short-but-valuable ebook to you. I often say that the only thing as hard as being depressed is loving someone who is. I stand by that and think that this book is valuable to those in both positions. I appreciate Becca's voice which is no different in written word than in person...communicating undeniable empathy with the person at hand, while somehow maintaining an enlivening levity, hope, and humor even while addressing such difficult realities as depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.
Thank you to my friend Becca Weingard for her words, for being brave and generous enough to share them, and for sharing them so honestly in her own voice...that, as usual, is just the best mix of realness, honesty, empathy, practicality, hope, and the goofiest goofiness. For me (and so many of the people I love most), the beasts of depression and suicidal ideation are no stranger, and this book & Becca's blog resonate as deeply right, true to the experience, and as an always-valuable reminder that I haven't been/won't be alone in those seasons and that there are practical ways to move out of them. Becca was a huge part of my surviving my first major depressive episode years ago simply through her friendship, for which I'm deeply indebted with gratitude. I'm so glad to be able to "share the wealth" with so many more of you now through her writing.
So if you are or have experienced depression, please consider reading. If you've known and loved (or lost) someone who's experienced depression, please consider reading. And if you're the person who'd never sit down to willingly read or learn more about 'heavy' topics such as this but might need to know more, please consider making this the one resource you take the time to read. I think it's brevity and balance will prove to be the sort of container for this content that works for you.
I've recently discovered Lisa Congdon, fine artist, illustrator, and author, and she's quickly becoming a big influence on my work. Lisa found her identity as an artist in her 30's and has built an amazingly successful career in the last 10-15 years or so through smart, hard, and dedicated work.
She shares in-depth details of how you can make a living by making visual art in the book Art, Inc. (The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist). There is more practical guidance in this book than in most resources of a similar sort, which I expect I'll go back to and reference as needed. The design of the book is also excellent, which I appreciate as the book is indeed about art/design. (It only makes sense I suppose, but this is not always a given.) There are other books in the "Inc." series including Creative, Inc. , Blog, Inc. , Craft Inc. , and Mom, Inc.
Hear/see more about Lisa Congdon's life and work in the videos below:
I appreciate when other artists give us glimpses into the influences that undergird the work they're making, so I've decided to periodically offer you those glimpses of the things that comprise my creative process. Hope it's interesting or helpful to you in some way! Read the Influences series in full here.
This is part 2 of a mini-series within my Influences series here on the blog. Series could be my middle name...clearly.
In compiling the list of books that make up the core of my bookshelf and highly influence how I work/who I am, I've realized that we're working with a pretty large bookshelf...so I'm breaking this up into a few posts divided by category. (Click each cover image to learn more &/or add each book to your own library...)
- SPIRITUALITY/PERSONAL GROWTH
- INTENTIONAL COMMUNITY
SOCIAL-PSYCHOLOGY, PERSONALITY & CONNECTION
I appreciate when other artists give us glimpses into the influences that undergird the work they're making, so I've decided to periodically offer you those glimpses of the things that comprise my creative process. Hope it's interesting or helpful to you in some way!
There's no way around it. What I read highly influences the way I'm thinking and whatever work I'm making. Whether the content is directly related to art and the creative process or it seems like it's from somewhere out in left field...in some way or another I'd say just about all of it makes it into the work I'm doing (or will eventually). Because nothing is actually out in left field when we're talking about art and creativity. Everything is fair game for material, and some people even land on a definition for creativity as something like: making connections between things previously unrelated to create something new...
Of course, the reading material doesn't only affect my tangible work, but it also & just as much influences my conversations & relationships. I had a couple of friends ask for book recommendations last week, and I realized that those are some of my absolute favorite questions to answer! So I thought hey, why not "answer" those questions for anybody who might be curious?! If you're one of the curious, AWESOME! I hope getting a glimpse of my bookshelf might point you to some valuable reading of your own.
In compiling the list, I've realized that we're working with a pretty large bookshelf...so I'll break this up into a few posts divided by category. Today's: Art & Creativity. Upcoming categories will be:
- SOCIAL-PSYCHOLOGY, PERSONALITY & CONNECTION
- SPIRITUALITY/PERSONAL GROWTH
- INTENTIONAL COMMUNITY
ARTS & CREATIVITY
Hope this points you in the direction of some good information and inspiration to undergird your work and relationships! Next in cue for part 2 of this mini-series, Influences: The Bookshelf, will be a list of books roughly centered on Social-Psychology, Personality, & Connection...
Until next time,