My Hardest Months: Surviving the Winter

Winter is the toughest season for me. Sure, there’s snowshoeing (I don’t downhill ski anymore), but that’s only feasible on weekends since it gets dark so early. I go to work in the dark, I come home in the dark. The sky seems to always be gray. And especially right now, it’s cold, lung-searing, cheek-pinking, eye-stinging. I look outside, and I don’t want to go.

Somehow, January and February are harder for me than November and December, although in the fall the days are getting shorter and in the winter the days are getting longer. Perhaps it’s the span of time it’s seemed dark — my mind lumps together Fall and Winter as the Dark Days.

It feels fitting that we’ve picked Winter for our New Year celebration, the time of resolutions and reinvention. Winter is a time for reflection, which flows into dreams for the coming year. It’s a time for sitting in front of a fire and letting the fire pass its spark to you.

I’ve always been one for tackling problems with action, for laying plans. So what’s an artist and outsdoorswoman to do when the outdoors feels less than inviting?

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Complete a Creative Annual Review to Improve Your Work

How to complete a Creative Annual ReviewYour boss makes you do an annual review at work to make sure you’re doing your best and constantly improving — why wouldn’t you want to complete a creative annual review for your own work?

Every December, I set aside several hours (generally spread out over several days) to complete a personal annual review and a creative annual review and set goals for the following year, based on Chris Guillebeau’s method. This year I’m incorporating methods from Robert Pozen’s Extreme Productivity to organize and prioritize my goals. I assess all aspects of my creative life — creative work, process, skills, relationships, business — for what went well and what could be improved.

(Article last updated December 2017)

(See my 2017 creative annual review, assessing my writing and illustration for the year and outlining changes to my work practice in 2018.)

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Personal Bests: Pride without Need for Recognition

My very first day of pole vaulting…and I didn’t get much better from here! (Though I did hold the pole at the tape :D)

I competed in track and field in high school, an unmemorable athlete. I pole vaulted, practicing just enough to clear opening height half the time, and stuttered through hurdles with laughable form. I might earn the team a point a meet.

But, senior year, I found my event: 400 meters. One lap around a track. A quarter mile. You need endurance; the race requires a near sprint for a full minute or more.

I pushed myself through repeat 200’s. I improved. Sometimes I wasn’t the slowest leg on our 400m relay team. And our relay team was good.

County finals rolled around and I thought, “This will be my last 400m ever.” I ran faster than I ever had before. My legs were numb as I rounded the final curve. I couldn’t believe my legs were still responding to commands. I matched the girl beside me. I couldn’t hear the Incomprehensibly to me, I qualified for county finals. I never imagined that I could be one of the nine fastest 400m runners in the county. But my hard work was rewarded with a Personal Record (PR)…and another race?!

I didn’t place in the county finals (unless you count last), but I surpassed my own expectations of my ability. I was a runner of no note, except to myself. I still remember my PR, nine years later, without looking it up. I remember how hard I worked for it. It’s a landmark on my personal map of achievements.

In my writing, I have no notions or visions of being immortalized as the next Thoreau or Abbey; I hope to inspire thought, appreciation, and creation in others while honing my craft. I want to create to the best of my own abilities, to create something that I am proud of.

In your work, or if you race non-competitively, aim to achieve the most you can, yourself. Set the bar against your own PR, not the world record. Don’t get caught up in trying to be the best; enjoy the competition with yourself as you push for your best. But leave yourself open to new goals and achievements – you just might surprise yourself.