Finishing School

I haven’t been here much, because I’ve been busy finishing other stuff. Well, starting new creative projects too, but with grand finishing plans. That and my day job has involved an excessive amount of screen time this month

When you’re pressed for time, nothing beats a list-y blog post, so here are my picks for some top female finishers, in a variety of creative fields.These are inspiring women who rock it, and make me want to finish things too. It’s definitely not an exhaustive list; choosing just five in each category was difficult.

Who would you add, in any of the categories? What creative fields would you add?

Authors (really more a reflection of the titles currently piled around my bed)

  1. Nicole Krauss
  2. Virginia Woolf
  3. Elizabeth Stout
  4. Anne Fadiman
  5. Harper Lee

Bloggers (with a slant toward some that I know in real life)

  1. Amanda Blake Soule
  2. Amy Karol
  3. Lisa Coughlin
  4. Stacey Bloomfield
  5. Beth Turner

Chefs (and Food Writers)

  1. Alice Waters
  2. M.F.K. Fisher
  3. Naomi Pomeroy
  4. Ruth Reichl
  5. and Julia, of course

Children’s Book Authors

  1. Mem Fox
  2. Cynthia Rylant
  3. Amy Krouse Rosenthal
  4. Louise Fitzhugh
  5. Beverly Cleary

Ed Reformers (and writers) – I know, not a traditionally creative field, but…

  1. Lori Pickert
  2. Celine Richwine
  3. Melissa Taylor
  4. Ellen Galinsky
  5. Susan MacKay

Fabric Designers

  1. Lotta Jansdotter
  2. Anna Maria Horner
  3. Heather Ross
  4. Marisa Anne (Creative Thursday)
  5. Amy Butler

Fashion Designers

  1. Wenlan Chia
  2. Eileen Fisher
  3. Sadie Fox
  4. Anya Anyoung-Chee
  5. Natalie Chanin

Film Makers

  1. Sofia Coppola
  2. Jane Campion
  3. Mira Nair
  4. Niki Caro
  5. Penny Marshall


  1. Helen Frankenthaler
  2. Julie Mehretu
  3. Elizabeth Murray
  4. Lee Krasner
  5. Elaine de Kooning


  1. Vivian Maier
  2. Diane Arbus
  3. Cindy Sherman
  4. Tracey Clark
  5. Mary Ellen Mark




She Made It: Lori Pickert

I was living in Hawaii, with a curious, active two-year-old. When he napped in the afternoons, I’d surf the internet (it was an hour long drive to the ocean), and I stumbled upon the most beautiful blog. Camp Creek was a gorgeous compilation of educational philosophy, project-based homeschooling ideas, inspirational photos, book and material recommendations, not to mention a community of parents, engaging in on-line dialogue with the author, Lori Pickert. I was inspired by the way Lori brought the processes of art, learning, and family life together, into a meaningful, self-sustaining circle.

I’ve continued to follow her work over the years, so you can imagine how happy I was to buy a copy of her new book, Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners. Before launching into my short interview with Lori, here’s an excerpt from the book, on the topic of authenticity:

This approach doesn’t work if it isn’t authentic. Your values have to match how you really live. Whatever you think is important for your child should be reflected in your own life and your own choices.

Your core values must align with your goals, which must align in turn with your everyday choices.

Really listen to what adults around you say about children – not their own children, but children in general. Many adults think very little of children and their abilities and motives – possibly because they think very little of themselves and their own abilities and motives. They transfer their negative beliefs onto children. If adults thought of themselves as strong, capable learners who enjoy challenges and want to contribute, presumably they would see children the same way.

Although the title includes the term homeschooling, it’s a book about learning, creating, and living authentically – important themes for all creators. Whether you’re homeschooling, unschooling, public schooling, or charter schooling, this book will feed your thinking about the way people of all ages learn. The questions and ideas presented are thought provoking, no matter what your relationship is to educational systems – if you’re a learner, then there’s probably something for you in Lori’s book.

As for the interview, please make note of her answer to the fourth question – housekeeping is highly overrated – move your creative priorities up the list and go make something! After reading the interview, of course.

What do you make? How did you begin?

I’ve made a business, a school, a family. Most recently I wrote and published my first book about children and learning.

I started my first business when I was only 22. My husband and I have spent years hacking our life. We’ve done a lot of interesting things: ran the business together, renovated the top floor of a historic building for office space, founded a school, built our own space to hold our business and the school, built a barn house. We had two sons who we took with us everywhere.

I think the beginning for me was working my way through college and realizing that I had no interest whatsoever in working a regular 9-to-5 job. Then, starting a company in my early 20s, I got used to living an alternative lifestyle. Being in control of your life is addictive.

Why do you continue to make stuff?

I’m motivated to create because I want to make my vision come to life. I’m not good at settling. Whether it’s a house for my family or a school for my kids, if I can’t find what I want, I make it.

Thoreau said something in Walden: “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” I think a lot of makers and doers feel this way. I would rather make something myself and have it be imperfect in general but perfect for me.

One of my favorite things to create is community. When you articulate your vision, there are always other people who are looking for the same thing. You share the same values and priorities. So when you make something, whether it’s a physical product or an experience, you’re also making friends, community, a life.

What’s the best thing you’ve made lately?

A few months ago I published my first book, Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners. It’s the culmination of everything I know how to do — writing, publishing, helping kids be in charge of their own learning.

Along with the book, my husband and I made a new site with a forum — so we created a community as well. This project really combines all the things I love.

How do you balance your creative life, with everything else that needs to be done?

There’s other stuff that needs to be done?

I relentlessly prioritize. If it’s not really important to me, it falls to the bottom of the list. (That’s where you would find things like housekeeping.)

Being with my sons and working with them is a vital part of my creative life. They are the best collaborators. I feel so lucky to be part of their lives, watching them create. They’re my biggest supporters — and I’m theirs. That goes for my husband as well. Our family life is centered around helping each other learn and make.

My work life isn’t something separate from the rest of my life. My need to work and make things is woven into my family life, my home, and my relationships.

Even when I ran my school for seven years, that just became part of my creative life and my personal life. I love to learn, and I loved the experience of making something that huge and complex. I loved the people. I suppose my answer for balance is not to keep things separate. Just make everything creative. Absorb what you have to do into what you want to do.

What advice do you have for others, who want to complete any type of creative project?

Be deliberate about your choices. Define who you are and what you want out of life, then make it your everyday mission to live that life. Surround yourself with people who fill you with peace and energy; stay away from negative people. Make your environment support your goals — everything you see and touch should remind you of your priorities and values.

Relentlessly prioritize. Drop the things that make you feel good in the short term but aren’t part of your ideal life. I watch TV, but I don’t watch it every single night. It may feel hard to sit down and do your work, but the work will actually give you energy. Meaningful work is nourishing.

Remember that it’s not the end result that matters — don’t focus on rewards or recognition. The reward is living your most authentic life and doing your work every day. The only recognition that matters is yours, when you realize you get to spend your life doing what matters most to you.

How do you know when you’re finished with a project?

Being able to finish is crucial. I’m a reformed perfectionist, so it was hard for me to publish the book when I knew I could make it better. The problem is, you can always make it better. I could have held onto it for the next thirty years and kept improving it, but it doesn’t really exist until you let it go and share it with people.

One of the tenets of project-based homeschooling is that you must share what you make with others — it’s the final stage of learning. To really master something, you have to reach the point where you can explain it to someone else. And you need to help others. Pass your knowledge along to someone who can really use it.

If you focus on helping others, you can stop focusing on yourself. Fail enough times and keep going, and you internalize it as a method of eventual success. I’m a writer and that means writing and publishing books and getting better at what I do over time. In order to be something, which is a never-ending process, you have to keep taking on new challenges. Just push your work out into the world and move on.

Speed Round – The A-List: 

 Artist: Maira Kalman

 Author: Laurie Colwin

Actress: Juliette Binoche

Activist: Eleanor Roosevelt

Aspiration: Help parents help kids take charge of their own learning.

Action: A little every day adds up to a good life.

Advice: To quote Woody Guthrie, “Take it easy, but take it.”

She Made It: Angela Perea

As promised, this month I’m gathering interviews with women who finish stuff. My fellow public-school-employee-by-day, creative-genius-by-night colleague and friend, Angela Perea agreed to jump in and play.

What do you make? How did you begin?

I write, mostly short stories about couples who are non-traditional in the most traditional, Shakespearean way possible. I have two finished novels that have yet to be published, and the musing of a third. I also make short films. I’ve always considered film to just be another story telling medium, and a natural fit for me. I used to draw, but do that less and less as I get older. I would consider myself to be more of a doodler than an artist, and I’m happy with the freedom that this self-proclaimed title brings me. I do a considerable amount of arts and craft projects: crocheting (my mother taught me, she could crochet and watch TV at the same time and never look down), scrapbooking (my sister makes me to keep up with my niece and make one book a year), and some jewelry making (I love beads). I’ve always said that God gave me the crafting bug because he knew I would never be rich and would need to be able to make gifts instead of buy them.

Why do you continue to make stuff?

I can’t imagine what people who do not create something do once they get home from work. Do they just watch TV? Walk the dog? Clean the kitchen? How dreadful. I guess the best answer is I’m wired that way. That creating is how I refuel my life’s tank. Even while raising my three daughters, there was never a time when I didn’t have some project going on. Now that they are grown up, I’ve only ramped things up another notch.

What’s the best thing you’ve made lately?

I made a short film for the 2012 Denver 48 Hour Film Festival. This was my sixth year to participate and this year’s by far my best entry. I’m also crocheting a blanket for my youngest daughter for Christmas and I love the way it looks – all swirls and circles.

How do you balance your creative life, with everything else that needs to be done?

I think I’ve prioritized my creative ventures. Why? Because it refuels me and helps me find the energy for all of the life’s other (and arguable less exciting) details.

What advice do you have for others, who want to complete any type of creative project?

Find others to encourage you. Find others who also refuel with creative ventures and find others who understand you when you say, “I have to create or I’ll just die!” And if you think this sounds dramatic, than you don’t get it. 

How do you know when you’re finished with a project?

This is a tough one. Some projects never feel finished. For short film, there is always another shot you think of, or you meet an actor who would have been even better in a role. For short stories it’s when I stop thinking about them when I’m driving. I do my best thinking in the car and especially when a new story or new characters or new scenes are pestering me. Crafting projects are so much simpler to define as done. When the blanket is finished, when every step in the instruction is complete, or when adding one more thing to it would move it from the “cool” category to the “gaudy” then it’s done.

Speed Round – The A-List

Artist? Matisse, Proust

Author? Shakespeare, Wilde, Lawrence 

Actress? Julianne Moore 

Activist? I can’t think of a single one, which I realize is a reflection on me more than any of the activists that you’re probably thinking of right now.

Aspiration? published, remembered

Action? energy, movement (I realize I just defined the word action but I wanted to stay true to the instructions and not over think).

Advice? Never say “no” if you can say “yes”.

Thank you Angela! I’m personally inspired to get my own writing, painting and photography in gear, each day when I see you at work; it’s definitely an employee benefit to have a creativity coach in-house, just two cubicles over.

Image credits: The typewriter is from etsy vintage. The Denver 48 Hour Film Project mast head can be found here. The letter A, in all its glory, was taken from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Quitting Time

What I’ve noticed about people who finish amazing projects? They know how and when to quit the things that don’t lead them where they really want to go.

I used to be an excellent quitter. It started in elementary school, when I realized that spending time at 4-H club memorizing the butcher cuts of beef, pork and lamb was not my idea of a great Wednesday evening. When I told my dad that I wanted to quit 4-H, the disappointed look in his eyes was devastating. Even though I wanted to please him more than anything, and he gave me a compelling speech about the downfalls of being a quitter, I forged ahead to achieve my first major quit. I’d successfully bought myself a few extra hours of reading time each Wednesday, and in my adult life I’ve never actually needed to know the difference between chuck and brisket.

This set the stage for many other confident quitting moments in my life. I quit my pre-med track to major in fine arts instead. I quit the crew team. I quit a lot of questionable relationships (which finally didn’t disappoint my parents). I’ve done a lot of quitting that ultimately opened up time and space in my life for experiences that were more meaningful and fulfilling.

Now that I’ve supposedly grown up and I’m a parent myself, I’m finding it harder to quit. I’ve allowed innocuous habits to infiltrate my life, wasting so many hours on meaningless activities (yeah Facebook, I’m talking about you).

So for this month of working toward focusing on and finishing creative projects, I’m also working to quit a few things. Instead of complaining about my plate being too full, I’m just refusing any more servings. Especially all of those cuts of beef, bleh… I’m even putting a few things back in the buffet line, so that someone who really does love chuck roast can have at it.

What will you quit this month? By quitting, what are you making space for?

Finish What You Start

As I thought about a month based on the theme “harvest”, the traditional fallbacks of pumpkin patches and apple cider just weren’t working for me. Not that I’m against pumpkins and apple cider, by any means. There are many places on-line that include hundreds of autumn craft projects and prompts, so clearly there’s an audience for that (and sometimes I’m part of that audience), but I don’t feel inspired to write in that direction, not this year.

Instead, I’m thinking of the word “harvest” in relation to completed projects and dreams. When the work is considered complete, and it’s shared with a broader audience. Hopefully consumed and enjoyed by anyone who looking for that type of nourishment.

I recently found a beautiful book at the library featuring the photography of Vivian Maier. I had to stop. I couldn’t move on to the next busy thing on my list; the photos had to be examined, enjoyed, devoured, and then examined again.

Maier’s story is considered remarkable by many. She was never called a photographer or an artist. Her job title was simply ‘caregiver’. She spent years caring for another family’s children, but each day she brought her camera. And each day she captured the most beautiful images, mostly from the streets of Chicago.

She snapped scenes and compositions that weren’t noticed by those around her, blowing through a roll of film each day, rarely taking multiple shots of any subject. I imagine that film wasn’t cheap in the late fifties and that most of her salary was devoted to supporting her art. But she had to create, had to grab what she saw, had to keep tending her artistic vision.

You may have heard the punchline to Maier’s story already – after her death in 2009 thousands of her prints and negatives were found in a storage container. Fortunately, the people who found her work quickly realized the importance of the collection. Maier’s creative project was finally harvested, and the images are now widely shared.

So my posts this month will be sort of an homage to Maier, and to all women who devote themselves to fantastic projects and dreams. I’ll be interviewing women who have cultivated a wide range of creative projects, all the way to the harvesting stage. Women who were able to jump past Maier’s locked storage container, and actually bring their work to light, no matter the size of the audience.

It’s true that there are many men who would be interesting to profile, but this month I’m focusing on just women. I want to know about more women who’ve seen their creative projects and dreams through to some sort of end product.

It’s for a selfish reason; I’m trying to figure out how to get my own paintings out of the laundry room, where I’ve hidden them behind the ironing board. Seriously, that’s where they’re stored – the symbolism of it, so tragic and predictable! But kind of funny too.

The potentially less selfish reason is that I want my kids to be able to see the capability of women. Yes, they know that moms work at jobs and pay for the groceries and even change car tires. Feminism has gotten us that far, but I also want them to see the creativity that women are capable of, beyond scrapbooks and the crafting aisles at Hobby Lobby (though you might find me there, from time to time).

I look forward to sharing stories of finished and ongoing projects – if you’d like to be part of this project, drop me a line at projectflip180 at gmail dot com!