when no means yes

In 2001, a major event happened that triggered a series of changes and opportunities in my life. In September of 2001, on September 11, specifically, we all know what happened. I don’t want to diminish it by not digging into details, but I think it’s safe to say that we all experienced that day in one shape or form and we’ll all have a personal story to associate with it for the rest of our lives.

What happened to me was that I decided that life was too short not to follow my dreams, which at that time was to attend a vegetarian cooking school in NYC. You see, up until that point, I just assumed it wasn’t possible. It was out of reach because of money, because of derailing my career in tech, because of a million other excuses. But it was never impossible, it was completely within reach, and I got a loan and went.

After school ended I needed to find an internship to put my new culinary skills to the test. I knew I didn’t want to work in a restaurant and feel the stress of a tiny, busy kitchen, let alone an insane Manhattan kitchen. So instead I started googling “vegetarian vacations” because why not make this an opportunity to travel? I went down a few interesting paths in this search, but ultimately landed on a yoga retreat center on the Greek island of Crete run by folks from England. Perfect. Or so I thought.

I reached out to them via email and explained that I had just finished the Chef’s Training Program at an internationally known culinary school specializing in vegetarian cuisine and would they have any cooking opportunities that summer? As it turned out, they would. I was in communication with the manager of the retreat center, a Danish woman who spent the entire season (late spring to early fall) at the retreat center.

We set up a time to speak by phone, because this was of course before things like Skype and FaceTime existed. We discussed the position at length and it all sounded quite manageable. But I felt that familiar something in my gut. I was afraid. I had basically worked myself up to say no even before she called. So when it came time to wrap our conversation and provide an answer, I said, “No, but thank you anyway.” She was very understanding and wished me well and our call came to an end.

Immediately after hanging up the phone, I frantically wished that *69 (yes this was a while ago) would know how to call back someone in Denmark. Or that I had caller ID.

Instead I went to my computer and emailed her back. YES, YES, YES, I’ll do it! 

And so commenced the summer of a lifetime. I mean, have you seen Crete?!?!

Agios Pavlos Crete

Moral of the story? Sometimes you have to say NO to know that you mean YES.

There are better methods out there, but hey, if this is the one that gets you there, use it.

Posted on April 20, 2014 in deep thoughts, life 0

action station: josh nguyen of imagist labs

Joshua Nguyen, Founder of Imagist Labs

I’m very happy that our next Action Station is none other than Joshua Nguyen, an old and dear friend who has inspired me often with his unflinching sense of adventure and his curiously creative spirit. Over the years, I’ve seen Josh dream up all kinds of ideas and pull all the pieces together with what seems like great ease. A seasoned world traveler / photographer / designer with a mind for business, Josh consistently creates delightful experiences for people everywhere. It is a joy to know him.

And with that, I’ll hand the mic over to Josh…


Who are you and what do you do?
I just founded Imagist Labs, a mobile application company. Before this, I was Head of Product at Tumblr. I’ve also dabbled in travel writing and photography a bit. I’m a bit of a mongrel, but mainly, I work with digital media and design.

a bird's eye view of the Joshua Nguyen's action station

a bird’s eye view of the Joshua Nguyen’s action station

What do you create?
I love building communities so people can express themselves creatively and freely. There’s so much exploration to be had in the world, and if you can somehow encourage people to take inspiration from the things they experience, change it up, and come back and make their own ways of looking at the world to pass on to the next person — I just love that. More aspirational, I’m always halfway done with a novella of some kind. One of these days, I just need to finish!

What inspires your daily work?
My current work tries to get people to see photos as composed stories, so I’ve been getting a lot of inspiration from the work of Sebastião Salgado, a documentary photographer based out of Paris. Each of his photographs has such a compelling narrative – you see that there’s a great sense of empathy for the people and landscape in his images.

The other part of my work deals with communities: how people behave, assign status and share things online. Since 1997, I’ve been a member of this sports BBS called Clutchfans. The forum has grown from just basketball talk to include different sections where members can talk about anything. It’s a great place to hang out and observe online interactions.  It’s kind of silly to say, but most of what I learned — the tribes, customs, evolutions and personalities that we migrate to online — I’ve learned from this BBS.

As far as design, I really love Olafur Eliasson’s creativity around light and space and colors.  He’s best known for his large scale installations that force you to think about nature in some way. Lighting, in particular, are both practical and emotional points for our interactions with the world, and we’re starting to see digital designers think more about lighting in their work.

How would you describe your creative workspace?
It’s pretty basic. Basic laptop for me to get on email and Photoshop. Basic Samsung monitor. A notebook for quick thoughts I need to jot down. I don’t like a lot of clutter around my work area. I get a bit obsessive — one of the biggest annoyances for me is having to clean up my apartment before I can sit down to work. Also big windows. Just being able to look outside resets my brain a bit to be more relaxed and sensitive to incoming ideas.

Josh's action station is saturated with natural light

Josh’s action station is saturated with natural light

What are you favorite creative distractions?
Can I say ice cream? I’m a few steps away from my fridge when working at home!

Well, I’ve recently gotten back into taking photos again. I switched up my gear to only rely on fixed lenses — I find that I get better shots when I have to go up to people and ask for their permission instead of shooting with a zoom lens from afar.

What creative adventures do you have away from your action station?
I’m incredibly fortunate to live in San Francisco, with nature so close. I love getting on my bike when I have serious anxiety — and riding across the bridge and up Conzelman Road — there’s this one part where the road just drops like 45 degrees into the Pacific. It’s gorgeous and terrifying and liberating.

More often, I take walks through the busy parts of the city and try to relax my mind from thinking about a problem. I just try to observe everything. Walks are free! I’ve recently started to use Twitter as short form notes for my walks through the city. Last week, I walked through a dodgy neighborhood and tweeted: “Tenderloin stroll: flock of pigeons, feces, girl strumming ukelele, fedora guy, fist bumps, wheelchairs.” Kind of resets me a bit and makes me think about other things instead of my immediate work.

What do you think that every action station should have?
Ready and available water. Hydration is important! Also, music is really important to me. I have this little iBomb speaker that gives me great sounds. Oh, and good lighting. Hmmm.. I think as long as you’re comfortable in your space and establish a pattern of some kind, you really can get lots done anywhere.

... a Rubik's cube is also a fun creative distraction

… a Rubik’s cube is also a fun creative distraction


Keep up to date with Josh’s adventures by following him on twitter at @joshuanguyen and visiting his website at joshuanguyen.com. For all you #selfie addicts out there, download Josh’s latest app, aptly titled Selfie!

Posted on August 23, 2013 in action station 0

action station: e bond of roughdraft books

It’s been far too long since I’ve featured an Action Station on this blog. I’m so very happy to introduce the 2nd Action Station in the series: one of my favorite people on this earth, Ms. e bond. e (yes, e, just e) is a bookmaker and writer and has spent years honing (and folding and stitching) her craft.

e in the classroom

e in the classroom (photo by Corey Tester of Southern Illinois University)

e and I met years ago while working together at a very creative fashion retailer. I was always mesmerized by her ability to make something digital feel so very handmade. I once had the great honor (and joy!) of being a helper on one of her biggest custom book orders. I helped fold stacks of pages as we gabbed about life and creativity. It was so nice to be in a maker’s studio, using tools that have been around for decades, or longer. It was a day I’ll always remember fondly.

And so with that, I’ll hand the mic over to the artist with a giant heart and humble soul…


just one of the many places where the work gets done

just one of the many places where e gets her work done

Tell us about who you are and what you do.
My name is e and I am basically a maker. I make all sorts of things: books, poems, digital experiences…A year ago I was a binder and designer of handmade books and art objects, a freelance graphic designer and a professor at moore college of art. Currently I have traded in the teaching for being a student again at Mills College in Oakland, Ca. I just finished the first year of a dual Creative Writing / Book Art MFA program.

Where do you find inspiration?
Lately, trees, lots of trees, and water. Now that I am living around water on almost every side, I am enjoying being inspired by it every day. I also live around groves of eucalyptus and huge forests of my absolute favorite, the redwoods.

I am soaking it all in because I am so in love with them and have come a long way to experience them. Even though I am in school, I am trying to see as much of Northern California and the Pacific Northwest which really is kind of indescribable. There are days I still don’t quite believe what I am seeing is real. It’s inspiration for a lifetime.

What are you feeling when you are making / creating?
I am usually just feeling the most like myself, which is why I have to do it everyday. It’s a complete feeling of understanding and knowing I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, like a still, deep calm. It doesn’t have to be all day but it does have to be every day in some way, shape or form. When I am not making something I tend not to be the best me.

How would you describe each space? Does each have a name? How are they different from one another?
These spaces are all very new to me still, having just moved west in August of 2012. I really miss my old studio space back in Philly so I am still acclimating to working in a new way. Although most of the work tends to get done in the studios at school, the wooden coffee table area tends to be where most gets done at home: list-making, organizing, small models being built, bad tv watching.

the coffee table

the coffee table

The yellow table is actually my kitchen table which basically just stands there to hold the projects I really want to be doing but don’t have time for yet. I am the out-of-sight-out-of-mind kind of person, so i usually have ideas, specimens, sketches, etc.. out to remind me of what to work on when I have a spare moment.

the yellow table

the yellow table

How do you bring the inspiration to each space?
Is hoarding an answer, lol? I collect things all the time. That’s why my kitchen table looks like a science experiment. I carry these small plastic bags around with me all the time so I have spaces to fill with sand, or rocks, or bark, or anything I can find. I find it’s easier than stuffing my pockets. I guess I bring the inspiration to me.

What are your favorite tools?
My sketchbook, bonefolder (the one with the #3 on it) my really sharp scalpel, and my favorite metal triangle, I’ve had it since freshman year of college (over 20 years)

some of e's favorite tools

some of e’s favorite tools

What is the most unexpected thing you ever discovered in your creative process?
Hmm, I guess I learned many years ago that I enjoy the process much more than the outcome, so that was extremely unexpected at the time. Now I understand that about myself so I try to really be in the moment of the making, and not worry so much about what comes from it in the end.


Such a special person, that e. If you’ve enjoyed this post, you can keep up with e’s adventures (and see her incredible work!) on her blog: roughdraftbooks.com/blog/ and on twitter at @eisroughdraft.

If you’d like to share your creative workspace, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Posted on July 14, 2013 in action station 0

what do you want to do more?

i want to write more | stellargirl.com

I’m going to put on my Captain Obvious hat for a moment and let you all know: I really don’t blog very much. I wish you knew how much I said, “I want to write on my blog more.” I started emailing myself blog ideas, which was at least a start. I’ve even fired up a google doc with a list of blog post titles. It’s a nice list. It remains unwritten.

I’m writing this post because the other post that was sitting top of mind didn’t want to write itself this morning. I kept coming back to a concept that I have been thinking about a lot over the last few months:

Whatever it is that you’re doing, you want to do that more.

OK. You’re probably confused right now. In fact, that was the response of a friend* when I said, I really want to blog more, but I end up just staring at the wall / surfing the web / doing nothing.

Whatever it is that you’re doing, you want to do that more.

Unpossible, I thought! That cannot be so. I must want to do all things all the time. I simply cannot just stare at the wall, surf the web, do nothing.

I want to let you in on a little secret. You can do that. I wouldn’t advise it 24/7, but sometimes… that’s just what you need to do.

Last year, you might remember that I had a series of blog posts on mentoring. In one of my posts, I talked about how forming an accountability group is a good way to open yourself up to support from others. That support goes both ways. In the group that I belong to, what started as an accountability group has shifted into a year of intention. And that has made all the difference. (Thank you Robert Frost.)

The truth is, we spend a lot of our lives, too much, in fact, doing the things that we think we should be doing, producing things that don’t need to be produced, completely forgetting to stop and just notice the world around us — which might be the color of the sky, the way a good friend makes you feel, or the cup of tea that you’re sipping.

We are forgetting to just be.

It has been my experience when you focus a little more energy on just being, everything else begins to shift. I wanted to write more, so I just started writing. In my journal, for myself. And now I’m writing this post. And when I have something else I want to share publicly, I’ll come back and write more.

For now, I’m just trying to be.

I hope that wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, you are doing the thing that you want to do more.

*My friend is Alla Zollers, who is also a life coach. She is amazing, you should talk to her.

Posted on April 21, 2013 in creativity, deep thoughts 0

i want to ride my tricycle

I Want to Ride my Tricycle

Queue Queen’s bicycle song and replace it with tricycle. This song will get stuck in your head like nobody’s business. Sorry about that.

I unwittingly made an analogy this morning when discussing my current career path. I said something to this effect: “I feel like I used to ride mountain bikes and now I’m riding a tricycle.” As though this was a bad thing.

Most days I wake up excited that I get to work for myself. Truly. Let me give you a little history. I have had a lot of jobs, some really great ones and others that were not exactly “a good fit.” I was the person who dreaded the feeling I got on Sunday nights, and I didn’t always like, ahem…authority. I carried on best I could, learning lots of cool stuff and making many friends along the way.

About two years ago, the stars aligned enough that I was able to go independent, as it were. It’s been an adventure for sure. I’ve had to learn the most basic things (how to create an invoice), as well as develop and refine more complex skills in technology, strategic thinking and design.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a multitude of clients of varying shapes and sizes. Freelancing is, and should be, a work in progress. Part of this continued experimentation is learning what it is that you like to work on and who you like to work on it with. I have caught myself saying recently that I’d like to work on more “bite-sized” projects. I think the subtext there is that I just like that feeling of getting things done. And if there’s more work and everybody is getting along, let’s do some more!

When I mentioned the tricycle analogy this morning, it felt small. Less than. Subpar. Not enough. I mentioned it again later and it felt slightly better: I didn’t want to ride the mountain bike anymore, I chose this. I mentioned it a third time (3x is a charm as you know) and BAM!

I realized that tricycles are awesome.

They’re shiny little red joy vehicles. They help people get started, learn something new, take the next step, play, laugh, smile. They take you places! These are the things that are part of who I am, what I care about, and what I want to create. Suddenly the idea of riding a tricycle doesn’t sound so bad.

Inspired by the wise words of Freddie Mercury…

I want to ride my tricycle 
I want to ride it where I like 

photo credit: abbyladybug via photo pin cc

Posted on July 24, 2012 in deep thoughts, work & biz 8