At Least I Wasn’t Abducted By Aliens: Keeping Your Sense of Humor and Productivity

February 28, 2018
Pen and watercolor sketch, with acrylic marker background, done over a note Dick left me, which I’d previously stuck in my journal.

Note: This blog post was originally set to run during the second week of January but technical issues with the blog delayed it. This version was edited for publication today.

Anyone who bothered to stop by or call me from October through January this year knew things were tough. I was beyond grumpy because of a respiratory infection I couldn’t shake which caused me to miss what was the most glorious fall for cycling in Minnesota during my lifetime. I fractured my foot and tore up my ankle just in time to miss any chance of outdoor cycling until March? April? who knows. It’s snowing again right now (Feb. 24).

I was very tentative about the injury. I kept having flashbacks to the the fall and the pain. Dick slept upstairs because I was worried that he would roll over onto me and my foot. (It is a hilarious concept given that in our 38 years I’m the only one who has edged him over to the wall and rolled over him while asleep.)

Because we were on different sleep schedules he left me almost daily notes. Even when we are on the same sleep schedule—if I get tucked into work before he leaves for his work—he will leave me a note rather than disrupt me. Now that it’s rare to get letters in the mail he knows I enjoy the notes.

At one point in December I had five notes left attached to the doors and walls he thought I would  notice best. I left them up because I was, as I mentioned, grumpy. The notes reminded me that I was grumpy and should cut it out.

On January 4 I was not only dealing with physical issues but a new round of website technical issues had begun. Dick left me the note you see on the page above. I actually came out of the studio before he left the house and started laughing about the note. “Yeah,” I said with sarcasm (yes I can make “yeah” sound sarcastic), “it will all be great! Let’s face it, it’s all good, it has been a great year! A great 18 months. At least I wasn’t abducted by aliens.”

We had a good laugh.

Things were to get much worst—I came to wish I had been abducted by aliens. But what I’ve found is if you can at least keep your sense of humor things always seem a little easier. And if you can laugh, it frees up your energy to work on solutions, even if those solutions aren’t easy.

So on January 4 I took the sign off the wall and glued it into my journal, promising myself I’d sketch and journal on that page before the end of the day. According to my handwritten time “stamp” I made it with 10 minutes to spare.

It was a quick drawing. I wanted to draw something to unwind before bed and found a dog image on Sktchy to use for a reference. The image appealed to me because the dog looked a little intense, and that’s how I felt, quadrupled. (In case you’re new to my blog you need to realize that typically when I sketch dogs or birds they are self-portraits by the time I’m done.)

Last week someone asked me, “Do you do a drawing first and then journal? Or the other way around?” I wrote back that I do both—I do whatever moves me. Sometimes I might hear something and not have anything on the page and then make a drawing and add the text. On this day I had that note in place and the drawing resource found me and I used it to make a statement about how I was feeling.

As soon as I finished the drawing I felt better about everything that was going on, from the pain in my foot and dwindling hours on my time sheet to the technology issues that were plaguing me. And I started to laugh.

I really do believe that drawing makes you feel better.

The next day I sat down and did my end-of-year-evaluation for 2017. I do one every year. I gather all my totals like I wrote about in Monday’s post. I get out the goals list from the previous year. I try to reconcile them, and make a plan for going forward.

You can read my end of year goals wrap up of 2016 where I make a plan for 2017 at this link if you want more detail.

Here are the key points I noted while doing the evaluation of my 2017 goals.

First 2017 was my worst year ever (until I remembered I hadn’t been abducted by aliens). I thought of it that way because I had spent over four months being ill and another six weeks of the year being injured. So five months out of commission.

But as soon as I noted that, my mood lifted. I thought of all the things I had accomplished. Most important, I kept my drawing practice going.

Log sheets taped to the front of signature stacks as I began my #2017BigBind. (Posted on Instagram. Visit my Instagram account to see more about the #2017BigBind.)

Also important, though not on my goal list at the beginning of 2017—I bound some books. Lots of books. Fifty two books in one big bind (#2017BigBind).

Since injuring my shoulder in 2013 I’ve tended to only make books when demonstrating during a live class, or when filming for an online class. But my brain didn’t get the memo because I continued to purchase paper now and then, thinking that I’d “be able to bind soon.”

Typically I’d get the paper torn down to the binding size I wanted and then something would happen to shelve my binding plans. One of the folks would go into the hospital and need extra care, a job would come in with a tight deadline, and so it went. By the end of the summer in 2017 I had quite a few boxes stashed under tables in the studio—each contained signatures for books waiting to be bound.

I decided while I was ill in the fall of 2017 that I would start to sew all those signatures together into the text blocks I’d later be binding. I didn’t think about doing all the binding. I just did the first step—pulled out the signatures and started sewing.

I keep a log of all of the books I bind. It has sizing info on the materials used so if I want to make a similar one later, or five of that size right away, I have a record of it and can just do it. 

I started to watch the stacks of signatures grow.

My point of course is that even though I couldn’t do something that I had wanted to do, I did a little something towards another goal (improvising) and within a very short time, and despite injuring my foot two days after I was well enough to go out and about, I was able to bind those 52 books.

I will always smile about that. It was the biggest bind I’d ever done. In the past I might do 12 books over the course of a week, and when I was younger, a weekend. But it was also the easiest bind because when I finally worked my way up to the casing in I could only stand for about 80 minutes and that limited the number of books I could do in a day.

Sometimes our circumstances teach us new ways to accept boundaries and make them work for us.

I still achieved my goal of binding all those papers I’d collected and torn down, but I didn’t exhaust myself in the process, trying to have them all done by a specific time.

So Was 2017 Really My Worst Year Ever?

I had not even started to look back at what the exact statement of my 2017 goals were and I already had a project that was tangible and completed—with no wear and tear on my body—despite being ill and injured.

One goal that didn’t get met was to get back to life drawing. For reasons already discussed there simply wasn’t a way for me to go off two or three times a week for three hours at a life-drawing co-op.

My main goal for going to life drawing was to work on more portraits. I have a project I want to do in the future and it requires that I improve my already speedy sketching times.

But when I couldn’t go to life drawing I thought about my goal and turned to Sktchy for photo references. At least I would still be sketching faces. My method shifted, but I kept the goal in focus. 

The trick is to not waste time at the shift by whining or worrying about what necessitated the shift. Shift and continue. Keep your momentum.

While shifting my goals I did hold on to some of the experiments I’d set for myself. I wanted in 2017 to do more watercolors with only graphite and watercolor, no ink or brush pen. I wanted to work on portraits that were less stylized. Ink can really get “in your face” and yell at you sometimes. I wanted to focus on how I could get contrast in the face without line. I did a lot of painting last year without pen and ink. I didn’t get to do that painting at life drawing, but I did that painting. I did enough of it that I know I’ll be continuing it this year, and know that it is a good direction for me to go.

Another goal I had was to take a larger palette of soft paint and real brushes out into the field like I did when I was younger. 

I don’t have a problem with pan watercolors—I love them. But I also love the feel of fresh paint and I was missing it.

I’m happy to say that I did get out with the larger palette of fresh paint. It’s still a work in progress. First I was doing it in the early spring when it was still very cold and I don’t idle the car. Second, there is not as much room in an old Subaru Forester for paints and containers and such unless you make adaptations and trays, and…let’s just say all this is a work in progress that I’ll continue to work on this year.

That spring experiment made me even more adamant about using real brushes out in the field. The Niji Waterbrush is a great tool. I love it. I always have one with me. But I miss real brushes. I need to be using real brushes more not less. 

Because of that I pushed forward with Dick’s help to make a prototype of a collapsible drawing table. In that link you can see me standing with the table—corrugated plastic board with space for all my gear, as well as a water source for my real brushes. Since I stand when I sketch everything had to be on one level. It also had to break down to fit in the 9 x 12 inch pocket I made for my fanny-pack belt. When set up it sits on a monopod for balance.

We haven’t had time to move to the next level of construction (fiberglass and who knows what. he’s the engineer), but I know that this is the direction I want to go. My three days at the 2017 Minnesota State Fair were the best ever, and the easiest. I had no aches and pains!

Also on the list of goals was my desire, because I love chronology, to keep the number of journals I have in progress at any one time down to as few as possible. I prefer working in only one journal at a time, but have realized I do like a really large journal for the studio. Since I can’t carry that around all the time some compromises are needed. I made progress on that goal as well.

And while I didn’t finish scanning my Bell Museum Project from the end of 2016 as quickly as I had hoped I did finish scanning it in 2017! It was yet another one of those projects which you can break down and do a little bit of every day and meet that goal.

What’s In Store For 2018?

I am writing about this on my blog because I wanted to make the following point:

You can always do a little something that feeds into your goals and inches them forward. If you do that little something every day, you might not get everything on your checklist checked off, but you can see the  progress.

I saw a lot of progress and adaptivity in 2017.

The first draft of this post was written at the beginning of this year. I needed a moment of breath to let it sit so that I could think about what my goals for 2018 would be.

As you know from reading my blog, on January 19, 2018 my mother-in-law Phyllis passed away at 97 years of age, in a rather sudden fashion.

The draft sat while I caught my breath.

The only goal I’ve had recently is to not let the grief take off all the control knobs. Happily I live with a man who doesn’t mind when I’m snarky. And we can laugh about it.

So have I given up setting goals for 2018? 

Not hardly. I’ve been setting yearly goals for myself since I was five years old. I can’t not set goals. What’s different this year is I’m not sitting myself down to write a new list just yet. I know that my goal setting and goal striving habit will keep me on track while I find my footing again.

I still have that portrait project I want to do, so working on my watercolors with graphite only is still a goal supporting activity. So too is getting to life drawing as much as possible. And while that new portable drawing table isn’t finished I can still take the prototype to the zoo and learn more about how I want the final version to be.

There are small goals, like who is my character for 2017 International Fake Journal Month?

I know in another two weeks or so I’ll sit down and make a formal list. (Because it’s marked on my calendar and it’s easier to do it than think about doing it!)

As we move further into 2018 I just wanted to remind you that it is never too late to set some goals. It is never too late to take an assessment of past goals and zig or zag as necessary to keep the goals relevant and keep yourself moving forward to what you want in life.

Keep asking what you want; keep setting goals. They have a wonderful way of sneaking up on you.

Remember, when you sit down and look at it, it never really is the worst year ever. You did get things done, you lived through other things, some of which might have been painful or difficult. If you remain engaged and alert and hold on to your sense of humor, sure you’ll be changed, it’s called growth, but you’ll be able to move back on track. 

Carry your journal with you everywhere you go to work out new goals on the fly.

Worse case scenario—you do your journal pages in space, en route to Alph Centauri.



    • Barb Gibson
    • February 28, 2018

    Roz, I really enjoyed this post. It both inspired me and made me laugh. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Reply

      Thanks Barb, I appreciate that you get me. (Thank you too for the snail mail card this week, which meant a lot, I haven’t been able to respond.)

    • sandra p mac diarmid
    • March 1, 2018

    you are like a wonderfully talented kid sister (I am an only child) who constantly gets my creative juices flowing… so many ideas sometimes its difficult to focus but I get focused just listening to you and your reams of work.. not to mention all the great and different media drawings….I have just rejoined after ‘loosing’ you.. however you now go to spam… did I do something wrong.. unlike you, I am a techno idiot…best…s.

    1. Reply

      Thank you so much Sandra for your kind comments. I appreciate it that I am able to help get your creative juices going.

      Sadly I’m not a tech person (and am going through no end of tech battles here, some of which were with the email notification my blog sends out. It is going out now so that’s fixed, but I have no idea how to tell you to get it out of your spam. That’s something that has to come on your end of things. And depending on your internet provider it might actually take a call to them. Some internet providers I’ve heard, do not like bulk mail from certain platforms. You should be able to set your mail box spam settings to let it in, but if you can’t…? Just stop back once a week and see what’s new. Thanks for reading.

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