Do You Count Up?


December 16, 2020

December 5, 2020
Day 7 of Advent

(because I count from Sunday, November 29)

from my Advent Dark Journal 2020

Do you recall that sensation of your small, sharp fingernail prying open a paper door on a glittery Advent Calendar? How the glitter rained down onto the windowsill as you tried to slip your nail under the door and only open this one marked #7? This memory is familiar to people who grew up in families which followed the Christian tradition of Advent. More recently, Advent has come to be a way of counting down the days to Christmas.

When I began taping an Advent Calendar onto a window when Benjamin was 2 years old, I didn’t want Christmas to be the ultimate destination. I wanted to encourage Ben, then him and Catherine, to sense the goodness of each day as it arrived, without anticipation of a huge beribboned event. I found Advent Calendars made in Germany which did not feature Santa or presents, but scenes in nature with animals and other less gift-related imagery.
In my journal, I count days.
I number sets of days related to things like the 100 Day Project or the days of a vacation or the days of a workshop I am taking or teaching. Counting assures me that I am attending to the present moment but also aware that something might not last forever. Workshops are not infinite; vacations are not endless. Counting reminds me to savor where I am.

Counting veers very close to measuring though. Measuring up is something at which I fail miserably in every way. I am always a little too much. I have never had the right hair. I plan way more than I can teach in any one session. I always pack too much clothing and not enough snacks. I carry way too many art supplies and my bags are always 55 pounds. My carbon footprint is too heavy, and I’ve lived enough years to know better about a few things but still, I don’t.

I could write this entire piece about all the ways I am too much in some ways and not enough in others. Is it possible to live on this planet as a person who could see herself as enough, simply as I am, messy hair, makes mistakes, too many bags, sometimes runs out of almonds? Could there be some kind of miracle that occurs because of those things instead?

I practice being okay with what is.

Like this morning. I woke up from a dream of dismantling Lego warriors with my friend Kathy, each of us on one corner of a table, a box of Lego guys in front of us. We carefully removed their helmets. I woke a little later than my usual early. I poured a cup of hot tea and wandered outside in my nightgown and jacket. I picked kale for our smoothie and stood watching the sky. Layers of clouds moved so fast above me, while here on the grass in my yard, not one touch of a breeze on bare feet. Stillness. I headed inside, lit a candle on my desk and opened my journal. I normally don’t open my phone until after I’ve done my first write of the day. So, when I did open it and read a message from the person I was supposed to meet at 8 AM, that hour being well past when I read her message, all the sweet rightness of my early morning fizzled.

It took a few texts and a consult of my calendar to set a new appointment. And then, it took more minutes to forgive myself and not see this morning as ruined because I’d missed that meeting. The effort that forgiveness took drew me back to my desk where I opened my Advent Dark Journal journal, and I made my entry for the day. Day number 3. Then I did my month-end writing about November and plotted dates and timing and things I want to turn to in December.

I allowed myself to orient.

The actual time needed for me to do this was not so long. I was able to be at my desk for work at the right hour. Thankfully, the initial sweetness of the day, which was threatened by my mistake in an early hour, did not evaporate. By giving myself time to orient in my journal, make some marks in creative practice, sit with the oracle of my calendar and reflect on the month past, what I accomplished and what still needs doing, all of this now felt like a small and fortunate event which I would not have experienced had I gotten to that appointment.

Orient happens to be one of my words of 2020. I carry a compass around to watch the needle totter to the north as I stand in different places, confirm east, notice south. The word helps settle me in the cacophony of 2020, as diverse demands on my attention tug me away from my desired path.

Forgiveness feels like it may be a word for 2021. In December, I plan my upcoming teaching year. I have to consider which workshops are COVID tolerant and which activities, like my residency in Armenia, may have to wait another year. Hopefully, I can teach at Snow farm in May. Likely I won’t attend a large in-person conference in July. Yup. Forgiveness, which provides generous grace when I make a mistake or cannot manage to do what I wanted to do, feels necessary.

Over the next weeks, these newsletters will include prompt questions to help you unearth your potential words for 2021. Did you have any words of the year for 2020?

My word orient assisted me this morning, when I knew I needed to find my bearings after a small bit of tumult.

Here are a few prompts for your reflection:

  • What do I want to leave behind in 2020?
  • What did I learn in 2020 that could be useful for me in the future?
  • Where do I find myself today and how on or off my track am I, really?
  • What mistakes could I mend with forgiveness?
  • Is there a note I could mail off today that addresses an untended mistake?

Thank you for reading me today.
In the spirit of words of the year, I do sell hand painted Powder Keg prompt cards in sets of 20 in small origami sleeves on my Shop page. They are useful for any creative practice or as conversation starters. You can find them here.

Here is a blog post from 2018 about how I hope to handle this coming season. Now, more than ever.


Have a question about Workshops or Daily Creative Practice? You’re in the right place.