I’m taking a break from rhyming. It was a fun few posts, but at times I felt I was losing clarity by trying to maintain the style. I definitely plan on going back to it occasionally in the future, in case you happened to enjoy it. Feel free to check out these links if you missed any of my recent posts.)
In recent weeks I’ve detailed my journey from stressed out college student to stressed out 9-to-5er to finally finding some meaning and an ability to express myself through creativity. I don’t think the path I’ve taken is the right way or the best way, and it damn sure isn’t the only way, but it’s the one that’s worked for me. With that being said, let’s pick up where the story left off…
For two months last summer I lived and worked on an organic farm in Bozeman, Montana. Certainly a far cry from an apartment in Brooklyn and a medical device job in suburban New Jersey. I found this experience through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), an international work exchange connecting volunteers with organic farms. Volunteers perform farm labor in exchange for housing and food – not a bad deal. I chose this opportunity in hopes of working with my hands, learning about our food system, and meeting a diverse group of individuals.
While in Montana and then during another farm stay in Vermont during the fall, I accomplished all of these goals and more. I learned useful skills in carpentry, growing organic food, and taking care of animals. I also made lifelong friends with the world’s future photographers, engineers, banjo players, carpenters, tree climbers, writers, hikers, and gardeners, just to name just a few.
More than anything, though, the Montana experience was one full of goats. We had a family of three consisting of Dolly and her twin kids Clementine and Risotto. Dolly provided fresh milk everyday, which we used in our morning coffee and eggs, and also turned into a variety of delicious cheeses (let me just say…goat ricotta canolis).
The goats were also a constant source of entertainment, spending most of their days finding new things to eat. This led to lots of ambitious climbing on their part, and futile attempts on our part to keep them contained. Every day came with a new story – a goat in the rabbit pen or maybe a goat stuck in a hole. These goats were EVERYWHERE. Just have a look at the evidence…
As maddening as it may have been to build new fences every week, their playful personalities made it impossible to stay mad for too long. Besides, like any good workplace drama, they brought our team together.
More than being endlessly entertaining and incredibly photogenic, these goats helped me come up with my idea to create a Philadelphia coloring book. No, really.
Each evening after the day’s work was done, our farm gang regularly gathered for an informal hangout at our outdoor kitchen. We would often recount stories from the day, share skills like wood carving, cooking, and music making, and otherwise just enjoy the massive Montana sky and its twinkling stars. The fact that we were living so intentionally in this community and were largely unplugged led to a refreshing amount of genuine interaction and awareness of the present moment. It was on one of these nights when something magic happened.
I was doing some casual sketching when my friend Jordan asked me to draw one of the farm animals. I naturally chose to draw Risotto, our pesky but lovable boy goat. After I finished the piece in pen, Jordan quickly grabbed some colored pencils I had on the table and spontaneously started bringing the drawing to life. Within moments Jordan was lost in his coloring world and I had three powerful realizations:
Coloring is awesome and incredibly relaxing
Coloring lowers the barrier of entry for someone who isn’t an “artist” to do something creative
My own artwork has the ability to encourage people to be creative in their own way
If I had asked Jordan to draw a goat, he might have told me he didn’t know how to draw, and thus blocked himself from doing anything creative. However, since he had been given a place to start and had the tools with which to personalize the piece, he acted as any former child would and started coloring. The simple pen drawing I had produced was now a vibrant collaboration between Jordan and I – and the whole was undoubtedly greater than the sum of its parts.
After Jordan’s coloring experience, I soon began drawing a new animal every day and a farm coloring book was born. These moments of shared creativity brought us all closer together, and made every moment on the farm even more special. I felt a new surge of appreciation for for the people, animals, and land I was so lucky to share this time and space with. Taking the time to draw and then color in these everyday objects made me so much more grateful for the whole experience. It forced me to really slow down and think about how funny, how beautiful, and how rare this whole journey called life is. And let me tell you, that’s an outlook that certainly helps when you’re digging holes for 8 hours straight.
As silly as it may seem, I knew this experience was something important and one that I wanted to recreate and share with the world.
An idea was soon born. At the time, I didn’t even know adult coloring books were such a big phenomenon, but I knew this was something I couldn’t ignore. I wanted to create a locally-focused coloring book, using it as a vehicle to encourage creative expression and appreciation of one’s surroundings. I immediately thought of my hometown.
During this time on the farm, I was always asked about Philadelphia and what it was like. I remember trying to describe the unique mix of American history, vibrant culture, nature, and more. Most people knew us for our cheesesteaks or for our recently enshrined Hall of Fame point guard. Many folks from rural America simply grouped us in with the other cities of the Northeast as big and loud and to be avoided at all costs. I always wanted to explain how diverse and welcoming of a city Philadelphia is, and felt my descriptions falling short.
Out of these conversations and my own search for meaning in a place to call home, my big idea was born.
I didn’t move to Montana intending for this to happen, but rather for a chance to meet people from different backgrounds, connect to the land, and unplug a bit. This earnest pursuit of meaning and the willingness to experience new things is what led to such a bizarre yet serendipitous moment of epiphany. Being in such a new environment with so many amazing people led to experiences and ideas I never could have dreamed of.
In the moment, sometimes its hard to know when something is happening that will change or define your life. I think one of the keys to finding fulfillment is noticing these moments when they do occur and acting upon them. Getting out of your comfort zone and being present in your everyday experiences will help you identify when the universe is nudging you towards something new.
I’ve finally found a project that really just feels like me. It allows me to combine my love of my city, my desire to promote creative expression, and my hope to enable people of all ages to become more mindful and less stressed. My drawings have improved significantly since those goat doodles last summer and the book is almost complete. I am so excited to have this idea finally materialize into a physical product. And I am even more excited to get it into the world where people can use it to learn about the city and do something relaxing and creative.
Stay tuned for lots of exciting coloring announcements and activities coming very soon…
Not everyone should move to Montana or befriend a goat, that just happened to work for me. But I promise, your goats are out there in some shape or form. You just need to go find them.
Until next time, much love.