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On Wrestling with Creativity & Contentment

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Maternity Photos with Lauren by Kristen Wood Photography

Back in 2013, some months into my life as a new mom, I realized that my magazine subscriptions to Vogue and National Geographic Traveler were fuelling a festering discontentment that was encroaching on my joy and creativity in the early days as a first-time mother.

Prior to my first pregnancy, I was obsessed with how much travel I could pack into a calendar year and thrived on back-to-back trips, travel logistics, and photography opportunities that took me from Sonoma to Siberia. I was weirdly preoccupied with tallying up my frequent flier miles and plotting their eventual uses.

But a of couple months before Lauren was born, Will encouraged me to find another hobby, one that I could do from home. I was stumped. In my 20’s my passion for photography lead me to art school, which resulted in my career as a professional photographer. From the age of 16 during my first overseas adventure, until the age of 31 shortly after Lauren was born, I immersed myself in all things photography & travel related. To be completely honest, I didn’t really have any hobbies I could do at home, besides research and plan for future trips.

I settled on dabbling in watercolours and calligraphy as I’d done a little of both in the past. I whipped up a simple sign that announced, ‘Homebirth in Progress’ and politely requested we not be disturbed. I think we taped that sign to our front door during all three of my deliveries and I treasure it now with sweet nostalgia.

Initially, I figured this little hobby would be short-lived, as travel was likely to pick back up following the birth of our child. After all, our families lived thousands of miles away and I had no intentions of letting my career vanish into an abyss of dirty diapers and sleepless nights. Essentially, I assumed that in no time at all, I would bounce back with a baby slung across one side of my body and a camera on the other.

But I had pushed myself too hard and too far during my pregnancy. During my first trimester I was relearning to walk after being thrown from a camel in the Jordanian desert and fracturing my pelvis a few months earlier. This was followed by two big trips, one in my second trimester as the photographer for a destination wedding in South America and another during my third trimester as a bridesmaid for my sister’s wedding in Canada. These lead to signs of premature labour and my midwives putting me on strict bedrest for a time.

And yet I still assumed I would have an optimal birthing experience (which I did),  nurse like a champ the way my mom had (not so much), and come out the other side a battle-tested mother of one, globe-trotting again with a baby to boot (lol). No other hobbies necessary. Creativity and career in tact.

Eight years later I write this and laugh at my naiveté.

“When life circumstances force us to adapt our creative outlets, they often become the first things to be sacrificed on the altar of our to-do lists.”

Jaime Fenwick in Jerusalem
Backpacking through the Middle East in 2012.

Turns out, breastfeeding was an all-consuming beast for me to tackle and made travel extremely difficult. I couldn’t nurse well in public because I struggled to let down any of the meagre milk supply I could muster. My midwives who’d seen it all told me that while most women struggle a bit at one stage or another with breastfeeding, very few struggled to the extent I did. And yet, we attempted travel during the newborn stage. 

Our pediatrician, who shared my enthusiasm for far-flung adventures grimaced when we shared our plans for schlepping our newborn to Mississippi for American Thanksgiving and two different provinces in Canada over the Christmas holidays. Lauren was the first great-grandchild on my side and the first grandchild in both our families and we were eager to introduce her to everyone.

While I do have fond memories and photographs of those trips, the struggles we faced vastly shifted my perspective on traveling with little ones. Specifically the one in which Will and I both wound up with bronchitis on the last leg of our journey, rescheduled our return flights incorrectly (my doing), found a flight to Las Vegas, rented a car at midnight, and drove through the dark to a little motel in the Mojave Desert where we slept for for a bit, before finally finishing the final eight hour drive home, sick and exhausted.  Through it all, Lauren was a total travel champ. We, however, swore off holiday flights from then until our last child was out of diapers, and have faithfully stuck to that vow ever since.

But wouldn’t you know, I continued to obsess over travel opportunities. To the point where it became unhealthy. Will and I fought over how to make travel work, I took on photography jobs that made breastfeeding a nightmare, and of course I poured over any and all books, magazines, and websites that spurred on my travel dreams. When my monthly issue of National Geographic Traveler would arrive, I would go down the rabbit-hole of wishing and hoping and land in a puddle of discontentment. The same thing happened whenever my issue of Vogue arrived…the content was so glamorous and pulled together that I found myself flipping the pages feeling jealous and resentful.

“I realized that stewing in a pot of discontentment, comparison, and resentment was not only going to make my life miserable, it was stifling one of the things that could help me thrive in this new stage of my life: my creativity.”  

This pattern continued for a while before I realized that stewing in a pot of discontentment, comparison, and resentment was not only going to make my life miserable, it was stifling one of the things that could help me thrive in this new stage of life: my creativity.

It was then that I realized that my creativity was something I had to defend and cultivate with more intention than I had ever done. Creativity is a gift we are all endowed with, but more often than not when life gets hard or circumstances change, our creative outlets get pushed to the back-burner. When life forces us to adapt our creative outlets, they often become the first things to be sacrificed on the altar of our to-do lists. 

But tapping into our creativity is essential to the art of thriving. Sure, it may not be what we have to prioritize in a survival situation, but if we neglect creative outlets or the exploration of our creativity on a regular basis, we make a way for discontentment to creep in, and with it, a host of other nasty neighbours like resentment, irritability, and comparison which are bound to take up residency in the space that creativity could have occupied. When we allow creativity to take its rightful place in our lives, it spills over and carves out room for healing, joy, and gratitude to settle in.

Kristen Wood Photography
Kristen Wood Photography
Del-Valle-Hike-with-Baby
Hiking at Del Valle with Lauren

When all of this dawned on me, I canceled my subscriptions to Vogue and National Geographic Traveler with some sadness and regret, because it felt like giving up my dreams in a small way. Not forever, but for a time. And so I searched for other magazines that might inspire the current lifestyle I was immersed in. Home, garden, and cooking magazines became my inspiration (this was before social media or Pinterest  had the kind of presence it has today). The two current subscriptions I receive are Martha Stewart Living and Magnolia. In addition to content, I’m pretty picky about the quality of photos, paper, font, etc., (this is an art school geek talking here) but those two magazines really stand out in those departments along with subject matter that resonates with me.

Or course there are other ways I tap into my creativity, but I have found that what I’m reading, watching, or listening to, is often the first and perhaps easiest thing to begin cultivating in order to inspire my creativity. The things we surround ourselves with can either inspire us or make us feel worse about lives or ourselves. The same goes with people.

Left to Right: Lauren’s Winnipeg Winter, Lauren’s Post-Bath Curls, Nursery Photo by Kristen Wood Photography

If you’re stuck in a rut of discouragement, comparison, or bitterness, I highly encourage switching out some of what you consume for something that elevates and uplifts. It doesn’t mean that what you’re partaking of is bad, it just might not be right for the season you’re in.

Here are a few questions to prompt your search for healthy sources of inspiration to fuel your creativity:

  • Does what I’m reading, viewing, or listening to make me feel light-hearted, inspired, or motivated?
  • While I’m reading, viewing, or listening to this do I get a nagging feeling that it’s not healthy for me?
  • Are there other interests that I haven’t spent time exploring that could be inspired by books, magazines, music, movies, shows, podcasts, or social media feeds?
  • Do I find myself swept up into a comparison game when reading, viewing, or listening to this?
  • Do I feel guilty for things I purchase after I read, view, or listen to this type of content?
  • Do I find myself creating new things or adapting old ideas after I read, view, or listen to this content?
Kristen Wood Photography
Kristen Wood Photography

“Tapping into our creativity is essential to the art of thriving…when we allow creativity to take its rightful place…it carves out room for healing, joy, and gratitude to settle in.”  

I am passionate about coming alongside others to inspire them in their creative journey. With 15 years’ experience as a creative entrepreneur, I have been able to cultivate a strong repertoire of strategies to boost creative output and help others tap into their creativity. If you would like to have me speak either in person or online at your upcoming conference, workshop, or retreat, please email Jaime Fenwick at hello@bringinginspirationhome.com . 

Jaime Lauren Photography
Lauren napping on me at about 6 weeks old while I photographed the olive harvest at Olivina, our local olive oil producer here in Livermore.

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How I Found Inspiration & Restoration in the Cotswolds

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When I embarked on an 8-day walking trip through the Cotswolds, I had reached burnout in my career and exhaustion in my personal life. I’d been attempting to juggle running a photography business and an online wedding publication with a toddler and a baby clamouring for my attention. My work seemed strained and uninspired, and I felt my creative coffers had been drained. I was attempting to do too much, with too little rest. As a result, I felt like a mediocre mom and businesswoman.

Sound familiar? I think it’s something many of us women struggle with.

I decided that the best thing I could do for everyone involved was take a yearlong, self-imposed creative sabbatical in order to focus on rest and restoration. During that time I delighted in spending more focused time with my family and creating for creation’s sake. Around 9 months into my sabbatical, I traveled to England where I traversed the English countryside with two dear friends. I spent the first 4 days with my friend Jody from California, and the second set of 4 days with my friend Mandee from Canada, who now lives in the UK.

I’ve traveled to many countries, and have traveled by numerous means, but never had I traveled on foot before. The act was transformative and powerful. 

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Before my trip I’d anticipated that the experience would reignite my creative energy, but what I didn’t expect was how the act of walking–daily, and for miles on end–would restore me physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ve traveled to many countries, and have traveled by numerous means, but never had I traveled on foot before. The act was transformative and powerful.

Each day began with a hearty breakfast, the donning of my daypack, and the wide-eyed wonder at whatever landscape might slowly unfurl before us. I was both unplugged and yet deeply present, lost in the beauty of the place and the pace.  

We walked each day through small sections of the Cotswolds, an idyllic patch of English countryside just a couple hours west of London, that boasts of sleepy villages, hillsides dotted with sheep, honey-coloured limestone cottages drenched in roses, and rolling woodlands that make you feel like you’ve stepped into A.A. Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood. I paused to watch an earthworm wend its way up from the rich soil of a farmer’s field, knelt to brush the soft petals of deep red poppies. I stopped for breaks of tea from my thermos and to use the loo in a handful of cozy pubs. Those pubs offered us a range of local, seasonal fare that warmed us from the inside out: hearty tomato soup,  flaky pot pies, and amber pints of ale. There was no agenda but to eventually arrive at the next village, where drivers from our walking company would deposit our bags at our next farm stay, boutique hotel, or pub inn.

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The act of following directions and maps provided by our walking company served as a giant scavenger hunt for adults. Seeking out field gates and trekking across farmer’s fields, scaring up a bouquet of pheasants, and spotting the spire of the nearest church were all part of the day’s events. The intimate connection with nature was restorative in every possible way. My body felt strong and healthy as I strode up one side of a verdant hill and then down the other, my lungs took in the fresh clean air and lingering moisture that followed a rain shower, my eyes gazed upon the beauty of God’s green earth instead of staring blankly into a screen, and my mind turned to thoughts of gratitude, prayer, meditation, and dreams for the future. When we turned in each night, following a hearty meal and a hot shower, my body and brain fell into deep slumber as the down pillows and duvets enveloped me in a snowy cocoon. I missed my husband and kids, to be sure, but I knew that the rest and restoration I was experiencing would linger long after I returned home to them. I knew that this experience was a gift and something I would cherish forever.

 

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What I didn’t realize then, was how everything I’d seen, eaten, felt, and experienced while walking day after day, would impact and inspire me daily in the years that followed. I know now, from both my own experience and from all the reading and research I’ve done on walking, that walking has the power to stir the creative juices in ways that sitting and brainstorming cannot. So now when I need to rev my creative engines, I find time to walk in nature. I also know that dreams need mental and physical space to be nurtured before they can take root. This walking trip enabled small seedlings of dreams to rise up within me and be nourished while experiencing local culture and landscapes. I was inspired by everything I saw, and that served as the catalyst for dreams I’m pursuing even today. I also know that creativity is something that can be spent, but need not evaporate if we tap into our creative roots for sheer pleasure on a regular basis. This trip invited me to indulge in photography again for the sheer enjoyment of it, to journal and write for pleasure, and to cook potpies through every fall and winter since I’ve returned! The creative juices that began to flow during and following this trip have not been staunched. Instead, they are constantly renewed because of the lessons I learned on that walk, about how to keep my creative edge.

view-of-naunton-cotswolds

The other takeaway I experienced following my walk through the English countryside was how much I needed to share this place with other women. I knew in my soul how many women could experience restoration and inspiration if they joined me on a walk through the Cotswolds, and so I set out to craft a retreat that would enable them to do so. In June of 2020, I’ll be leading two groups of women through this tranquil region, and have designed the retreat to incorporate both content and opportunities to help each woman tap into her creative roots. If this sounds like the very thing you desire, I want to encourage you to dig a little more and see if this retreat is right for you. Just click on Cotswold Women’s Walking Retreat and I’ll send all the details your way! You can also email me at: hello@bringinginspirationhome.com

“This walking trip enabled small seedlings of dreams to rise up within me and be nourished while experiencing local culture and landscapes. I was inspired by everything I saw, and that served as the catalyst for dreams I’m pursuing even today.”  

I cannot wait to hear from you, and I am so looking forward to guiding you on this journey into restoration and inspiration as we walk through the Cotswolds next June!

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