I have a group of four friends called “The Peppers.” We take our name from the somewhat mythical publishing endeavor created by Karen Blumenthal back in the 1990’s. During the 2003-2004 academic year, the Peppers collaborated on editing, designing, and birthing into the world a lovely collection of essays by Rollins students. Red Pepper Press published Shifting Gears in April of 2004. Many of you contributed to this collection, still one of my proudest publications.
Julie Dunsworth, Wendy Goddard, Mary Ann de Stefano, and Karen Blumenthal had all been students of mine, and when we came together as editors for this book, we became more than academic colleagues; we became good friends, and life-long supporters.
When the book was completed, the Peppers continued to meet, though not as often as we had when they were all students and spending a lot of time on the Rollins campus. But we knew we had something very special in our friendship, and in spite of having lives that carried us in very different directions after graduation, we continued to get together for more than just gab sessions–though there have been plenty of those for sure. This group was different because we made a commitment to re-connect periodically for the purpose of monitoring our creative projects. We wanted to support and encourage each other, we wanted to help each other grow creatively, and we wanted to gently hold one another accountable for following through on creative intentions we wrote and shared with each other.
We were a creative team of writers, editors, and designers when we worked together on Shifting Gears, and we have maintained the construct of a creative team over the last ten years. My mentor and creative coach, Jeffrey Davis of Tracking Wonder, speaks and writes often about the importance of creating such associations in our creative lives; he calls this a Wild Pack. A Wild Pack is a group of like-minded creatives who run with us as we traverse the challenging and rewarding pathways of creative living. These four women, The Peppers, are my Wild Pack.
So what does a Wild Pack do?
Here are the top ten qualities of a good Wild Pack.
1. They pay attention to you. They take note of your accomplishments and your movements in the creative realm, and they tell you what they have observed. In loving and supportive fashion, they say what they see in you.
2. They applaud your efforts outside of the realm of judgments like success and failure. They know you well enough to understand what constitutes growth in your creative life.
3. They share an understanding of the creative process with you, and they hold the space for you to think out loud, to experiment, to dream big, and to fail big, too.
4. They take pleasure in your accomplishments, almost as much as in their own accomplishments.
5. They listen to you when you become discouraged, or lose faith in your talent or yourself. They listen to you even when you repeat the same complaint over and over and become exceedingly tedious. Yes, sometimes they let you be tedious!
6. They are not afraid of your fear. They let the fear rise up in their midst, and they help you look at it from another angle. They help you disassociate from that fear.
7. They help you dispel your false beliefs about yourself. And they hold a mirror up to you so you can more clearly see who you are.
8. They are role models of people who value creativity and the creative process, and they are not limited by what the rest of the world says about the requirements of living a creatively productive life: like, you have to have a degree to do that; you have to have money to do that; you have to be young to do that; you have to have connections to do that.
9. They are actively committed to a creative practice.
10. They keep helping you ask the question, What do you really want to do with your life? And when you tell them, they smile and say “Yes.”
Yesterday, the Peppers, my wonderful Wild Pack, came over to the LIfeArt Studio for coffee and pumpkin muffins. Mary Ann is the founder of the successful editing business MAD about Words and constructs beautiful websites, specializing in author websites. Julie is now a full time artist, devoting herself to painting and photography, in addition to her writing. She has shown her work at the Orlando Museum of Art, Crealde, and the Maitland Art Center. Soon, we’ll see her work in a downtown gallery. She is no dabbler; she has fully claimed her role as committed artist. Karen is co-founder of Loving Art Partnerships, conducts workshops with her husband in art museums, and is writing a screenplay and collaborating with a famous actor and a successful Hollywood producer on a film project. After years in the academic world, Wendy is pursuing a new life in Frostproof, Florida, pursuing her enormous culinary talents and renovating her new home into a place of gracious and creative living. She has entered a new era in her creative life.
Am I proud to surround myself with such interesting, talented, wise women? You bet I am. But mind you, we all have to work at this Wild Pack thing. This past year, all of us busy with our lives, we failed to meet as often as we would like. So yesterday, we reminded ourselves that we need to pull the pack together more regularly in 2014.
So how about you? Who do run with? Do you meet on a regular basis to support and encourage each other? Do you feel inspired and provoked to move forward in your creative life because of them? If you don’t have such a group established, how about creating one as a sincere sign of your commitment to your creative life in 2014.
And for heaven’s sakes, do not make these Wild Pack gatherings an ordeal. If you meet in your home, make a pot of coffee and buy some Lorna Doones at the grocery store. Don’t get all martha-stewart-y about this. The focus of these gatherings needs to be on the creative lives of the group.
This morning, I found a long note in my inbox from Mary Ann telling how happy she was to have spent such good time with the Peppers yesterday. She concluded her note with this: “I’m so happy for you and your idea about yoga for students and other under-served people. I looked at the Give Back Yoga site briefly. They look like such a good match for you. They can help you spread your wings. I’m excited for you.”
You see what I mean? Is she precious, or what? I swear, this makes me cry like a baby. Like all of the Peppers, she’s watching me. She’s cheering for me. She really wants me to be successful in the deep creative work I feel called to do, and often terrified to do. I run better when I run with these women.
So today, from the cozy sofas of LifeArt Studio, I say, claim the creative life you want to live. And run with a good pack.