The universe is always in flux, so waiting endlessly for perfection just means you’ll miss the boat.

Danny Gregory

Danny Gregory’s “Shut Your Monkey” hit at just the right moment for me. The combination of a very challenging year at work and a post-marathon movement slump had me feeling drained. I needed a good kick in the pants, or else my holiday break might devolve into a slovenly mess of bon-bons, sweat pants, and movie marathons.

Okay, maybe I can have a little of that, but…

Oh no! That’s me, possibly missing all of the boats. This book invited me to doodle directly in it. Not really, but I don’t think Danny would mind.

This morning as I finished up this book, I’m feeling fired up. I’ve been drawing ever day since his talk, and the book pushed me even further to reflect on my purpose and what drives me. If you need a pep talk, this is a good one.

Gregory invites challenging the “monkey” that holds you back. Those inner voices, the ones who needle with nay-saying and destructive doubts, can be quelled.

In short, the book says:

Don’t let meaningless distractions get in the way. Don’t expect perfection. Don’t over-analyze or critique your process or the creative output.

Just show up.
Just do.
Just be.

Thanks to High Alpha, who hosted Danny Gregory for a talk about creativity. Free registration to the event included a copy of his latest book, Shut Your Monkey.

A Suggestion

As one does when in Seattle, we spent the better part of an afternoon roaming Pike Place Market.

Pike Place Market gets mail too.
Pike Place Market gets mail too.

We bought a lb. of hazelnuts, crammed into a restaurant and ate some hearty clam chowder (good, but not award-winning, truth be told), and eyed a lot of produce and fresh fish that we had no place to cook.

No grazing!
No grazing!
Pike Place Peonies.
Smelt pretty fishy.

Amidst the iced-over fish eyes and neat rows of flower bouquets, the aisles were tightly packed with locals, chefs, street musicians, tourists with cameras. It’s an experience in people watching as much as in food.

Because of my obsession with Lunch at the Shop, I knew I wanted to visit Peter Miller Books. It’s walking distance from the market, so once we’d had our fill there, we headed over.

Despite knowing better, we arrived near lunch time and had to mill about the neighborhood until the shop reopened. We could have gotten lost in the book stacks for hours – it’s like taking a design and architecture world tour within a couple hundred square feet. Not wanting to carry a lot of heavy books back (plus we had a Powell’s trip on the docket), we ended up with some Japanese award-winning pencils, smooth erasers that look almost like stone and heavy brass pencil sharpeners.

As we checked out, I was too shy to gush as I wanted: “OH MY GOSH. I LOVE YOUR BOOK!” so I said nothing. Peter was quite friendly and struck up a conversation anyway. He asked where we were from and to my relief didn’t talk RFRA (which was all over the news). We asked for a lunch recommendation, and he recommended a Middle Eastern place called Mamnoon, which sounded perfect.

Lunch at Mamnoon.
Lunch at Mamnoon.

We had quite a feast, and doodled with our new pencils while we ate. Seattle International Film Festival was running, and over fattoush, we chose a french fashion documentary to see later that day.

Doodling on the SIFF cover.
Doodling on the SIFF cover.

Peter had made a second suggestion. “If you’re going that way, there’s a small church worth seeing…” After lunch, our friend Jenn met us, and we took the second half of our two-part directions and ventured together to find the church.

By this point we’d walked a lot, but we it seemed wise to listen to a fellow who owns and curates a shop specializing in architecture books when he suggests seeing a building. It was the Chapel of St. Ignatius, on the campus of Seattle University. It was well worth the extra jaunt to find it.

St. Ignatius by Steven Holl

Pops of colored light pierced through the white plaster, a strange play between serenity and joy. I hadn’t known then that architect Steven Holl’s guiding principle for the space was “a gathering of different lights.” Mission accomplished – you feel the color. (None of my images fully capture that magic, but you can see some that do here.)


We took a break on the benches outside, gazed into the reflection pool.


Somehow, it’s like he’d known we’d need this restorative stop, a peaceful oasis within the bustle of travel. You just can’t beat a good recommendation from a local.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “Influencers. Did you witness someone influence others? Perhaps you experienced it directly. Share a tale of persuasion.”


“Individuals who come to believe that they can effect change are more likely to accomplish what they set out to do… People with self-efficacy set their sights higher, try harder, persevere longer, and show more resilience in the face of failure.”

from Creative Confidence, by Tom and David Kelley

Morning reading.

A photo posted by Sara McGuyer (@sara_mc) on

This. I want to send this quote to people everywhere. There are plenty of great ills in the world, and my heart can get heavy over many of them. What I really want to wage a war against is lost potential and self-doubt. I see so many people underestimate what they’re capable of doing.

Fair warning, I’m about to have a moment of what Drew calls transformational hippie shit.

Imagine a world more of us believed in ourselves. Think of how the heart center of humankind might shift. A more vibrant and warm world. Think of the problems we might solve.

What if you’re the one to make it happen? 

Maybe this is my individualization theme from StrengthsFinder talking (meaning I notice and value unique strengths in others). If I can see what you can do, maybe you can too.

Don’t give in to the first road block. Or the second. Keep going.
Remind your friends and neighbors they can do it too.
Believe in your ability to make an impact.

And then you will.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “Read Up. Let’s explore the power of words. Did a writer delight you, make you think, or impact you in some other way? Write a review, or share a favorite line from something you’ve read.”

Navigators and Wanderers

Life is so much easier when you have someone to help you navigate.


I’m a wandering sort, the type who gets lost. When this happened, I can’t really say.

From the moment I got my license to drive, I intuitively got the lay of the land. This was pre-GPS. Maps came in tri-fold paper form. Remember those? I could go clear across town and find my way without a map, thank you very much. When I moved to Chicago, I navigated the city without the aid of a cell phone. During my first month in the city, I got off on the wrong train stop once, but otherwise, smooth sailing.

Later on, something changed. Perhaps I let this part of my mind go, as my most frequent travel companion, Louie, has an infallible internal compass. To not need to fret over directions helps me enjoy the journey, while he loves knowing the way and navigating. We make a good pair. I push us toward a diversion, and he rights the ship before we shipwreck in the wrong place. It was the same when I travelled with Lydia in Phoenix – a natural navigator whether in the car or in the wild, she kept us on the right path for our morning hikes.

Louie on our way to the Lost Coast in California last spring.
Louie on our way to the Lost Coast in California last spring.
Lydia leading the way in Phoenix
Lydia leading the way in Phoenix.

I recently finished this book Collaborative Intelligence which teaches you how to think with people who think differently than you do. It’s a little like a Myers-Briggs test to help you understand how you’re wired to make decisions, to notice where your mental blind spots are, and to partner with others who have that strength.

The book presents a useful framework (and there’s much more detail to it), but you can make use of its key message, even without reading the whole thing. Are you a detail person, who can’t see the future? Find a visionary to help you make the leap. Are you caught in the clouds, but couldn’t take a plan from fluff to action no matter how you tried? Find a partner in crime who likes boots on the ground.

Why navigate solo, when a thinking partner can help you see so much more?

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox

Prompt: “Role Models. Life is so much easier when you have someone to help you navigate. What makes a mentor great? Have you ever had a mentor? Been someone else’s?”

On Books

There’s no such thing as a perfect piece of writing.”Haruki Murakmai

It’s odd to sit down with this new book right at the start of the #ThinkKit16 challenge, which has asked me to write the first line of my autobiography, and then to sum up a whole year. Both tasks I struggled with mightily – it took me at least three times as long to find my words. This is what happens when you don’t keep up with your craft.

This book came to me, I suspect, just when I needed it. From Hear the Wind Sing, page 4:

Now I think it’s time to tell my story.

Which doesn’t mean, of course, that I have resolved even one of my problems, or that I will be somehow different when I finish. I may not have changed at all. In the end, writing is not a full step toward self-healing, just a tiny, very tentative move in that direction.

All the same, writing honestly is very difficult. The more I try to be honest, the further my words sink into darkness.

Don’t take this as an excuse. I promise you—I’ve told my story as best I can right now. There’s nothing to add. Yet I can’t help thinking: if all goes well, a time may come, years or even decades from now, when I will discover that my self has been salvaged and redeemed. Then the elephant will return to the veldt, and I will tell the story of the world in words far more beautiful than these.

I read this passage multiple times, like a meditation.

This is a thing you can do with a real book. Thumb through the pages, trace the lines with a finger. You can look the words in the eye without wincing.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “Get Analog. No screens, no technology – let’s think about real world experiences. What did you do with your hands this year?”

A Draft

volcanoI’m nearly 38 – too old for barely-surface-scratching, self-indulgent, weepy poems. Definitely not old enough to string together all of the beautiful, bizarre and messy lessons of life into an autobiography.

I just finished Gratitude, a collection of four essays written by Oliver Sacks near the end of his life. He compares his years with elements of the periodic table. A poignant, relevant (also, neat and tidy) vehicle to sum up the life of a scientist and writer of great acclaim.

Sacks said: I am now face to face with dying, but I am not finished living.

At the age of 82! I know enough to be sure I am telling the story of a writer and maker, and I hope I’m telling a story of things I don’t know yet. I too am not finished living, though I have collected drafts, excerpts, and a curio cabinet of odd bits.

There was the time I called a university professor to conduct some research for school. I imagine he scratched his head, wondering why on earth a fifth grader might be calling to inquire about genetics.

This was an early sign, a harbinger of chronically being on a need-to-know basis. From a definition of need-to-know: “the information must be necessary for the conduct of one’s official duties.” When you’re living a collision of ambition and curiosity, everything feels need-to-know. This artifact goes in the “curiosity” cabinet, but it also earns a spot in “generosity.” I’ll always remember how he indulged me, at least enough to try to explain genetics to an elementary student.

Then there was the time I stepped barefooted on a push pin, squarely and definitively, so that the whole thing plunged into the tender arch of my foot, and I blotted the blood with a page torn from a pocket sized, spiral bound ruled notebook because it was what I had on me at the moment. This one has potential, I think. Who can say? I’ll file it under “being sensitive,” or perhaps, “on becoming a writer.”

One time my best friend and I heaped piles of mud into her bath tub, thinking we’d create a grand mountain or volcano. Instead, we made the worst kind of mess. I had to go home, leaving her with a tub full of dirt, grit smeared all over her bathroom, and the reckoning that was sure to come from her mother explaining just exactly what we thought we were going to with that filth. File under “reckless exploration/creativity.”

Did I ever tell you about the time an art professor told me I drew with the confidence of a senior? I recall my own shock, wondering, is there another way to draw? (“Outward appearance of strong sense of self/surprise of this perception.”)

Did I ever say why I fell asleep with a big bite of un-chewed, bitter cole slaw in my mouth? (“WTF, but so weird, it must mean something”)

What’s my first line? Ha! I’ve weaving this life together without a pattern, friends. I have no idea where it begins or ends. Will I end with a ship sail, a blanket for miles? A sweater knit big for someone twice my size? I’m making something, yes, for sure. But, what?

I could pick any one of these beginnings. Or the story might take off from a point not yet lived. For now, I’ll just keep arranging pieces, until one day I can say A-ha! Here is how this fits.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: Pretend you’re writing your autobiography. Give us your first line, a first chapter, or even just an image. What’s the story of you?

Clear Head, Wrong Hand

When I was younger, and carrying fewer years loaded with memory, excitement, concerns, problems yet to solve – I could sit with calmness, or at least something closer to it. I don’t mean sitting and dreaming, thinking, or writing. I mean sitting with a clear mind. As my schedule has gotten more hectic, I’ve tried to be more intentional with this practice. I’ve meditated during yoga classes, used an app for guided meditations. It’s getting harder, not easier. So much for the wisdom of the years, right?

I am at times thankful, and others burdened by, an overactive imagination. This frenzied mental pace and constant overstimulation reached a pinnacle pre-vacation, as I sprinted to wrap up and hand-off projects, and truly be able to unplug for our first real vacation in two years. In San Fransisco, I woke early, before Louie and got an hour or two of work in. By day two, I’d finally wrapped up what I promised myself I would, and I shut the lap top for good for the rest of the trip. Our honeymoon in 2008 was the last time I’d been away from work for so long.

By the time we’d made our way up the coast, basked in what seemed prehistoric shade of the giant Redwoods, run our marathon through Eugene’s city parks and bike paths and by the Willamette, then driven north to Portland, I noticed the difference of a mind more at rest. At Powell’s bookstore downtown, as if planted there just for me, I noticed an end cap full of meditation books.

It’s been weeks since vacation now, and I’ve finished reading one of the books from that end cap – Sit Like a Buddha, which has me committed to daily ten minute, unguided meditation. I fidget. I think about work. One day I drifted to sleep half way in, and came to understand a new level of giving grace to myself. The author of Sit Like a Buddha suggest after 11 days, daily meditation will be a habit. I was skeptical, but I’m 20 days in.

The second book I picked up off of that end cap, Mindfulness on the Go, offers 25 practices that can help build mindfulness. I’ve been working through the first, which is to use your non-dominant hand.

Non-dominant hand drawings
Non-dominant hand drawings


Eating wrong-handed is a slow, messy, humbling practice. I’ve made messy sketches with my right hand, and wrote a 10-word sentence that while passably neat took me 3x as long to write as it would have with my left hand. I’ve tried over and over again to draw a straight line right-handed. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to get it quite right, but my hand is getting steadier with each practice.


By Its Cover

My Most Recent Favorite Cover Pick
My Most Recent Favorite Cover Pick

Recently a friend expressed surprise that I purchased a book because the cover pulled me in. It’s true, despite the old saying, never judge a book by its cover, I do it all the time, at least in the snap decision of deciding whether to buy.

It is a habit developed in my book store days (I spent seven years in the industry). Being surrounding by so many new titles every day, it simply isn’t possible to assess every book more fully. Certainly reviews were read, discussions and recommendations from coworkers considered, but I learned to take a chance on a book, having heard nothing of it, aside from being drawn to the cover.

I’ve built in two tricks to improve the odds I’ll like my pick. I flip to the copyright page to find the publisher, because there are a few that seem to get me, or at least have an editor or two who shares my literary tastes. Then I read the first paragraph. If I want to keep reading, I’m sold.

Picking a book by its cover is a practice that has stayed with me, not because 100% of the time I loved every book. I’ve picked a few mehs, and one or two never-gonna-finishes. But I’ve also discovered things I might otherwise not have. And because this mindset makes going to the bookstore (same is true for the record shop) an adventure, full of possibility.

This book is my spirit animal

lunch-at-the-shopI’m the sort who typically eats lunch at my desk while I plow through email or other work. The idea of taking back the lunch hour always sounds so romantic, but in practice, I’ve failed at regularly celebrating lunch. Then I found Lunch at the Shop. I loved the subtitle: The art and practice of the midday meal.

This book, I hoped, might inspire me to have a mindful lunch here or there. As I read, it did far more than that. I wasn’t joking when I said this book is my spirit animal. Beyond lunch, this is a fine example of obsessing over the details to create a great experience, as well as being an in-the-wild example of what SmallBox calls culture-powered marketing.

The foundation of culture-powered marketing is what we call the North Star, or your purpose and your values. An organization must first define, then embrace their own guiding principles. When a whole team is engaged by shared beliefs and behaviors, who you are and what you do suddenly begins to market your organization for you.

Here is a small-ish (from what I can tell) shop in Seattle, Peter Miller Architectural & Design Books and Supplies. They decided the rejuvenation provided by lunch-taking is worth making space for, and that it should be a shared experience for their team. Then they stuck with it. Seven years in, lunch is still a part of their rhythm. All standards and practices of the retail industry are set aside – the shop closes for lunch. In this case, the practice becomes much more than just eating. It’s about togetherness and rest. It’s become culturally relevant to them. Lunch says something about the shop and who they are.

Another piece of culture-powered marketing – it leads to things. Towards cultural institutions, which are celebrated or revered like holidays. Towards great content that shows what an organization believes in. In this case, lunch became a daily holiday, and it resulted in a 160-page book with their principles and habits for making food to share without a proper kitchen, and more than 50 recipes.

This book is for the sort of people who put their potato chips in a bowl rather than eating straight from the bag. For the ones who take extra care when plating up. If you have zero tendency to fuss over food, this will likely sounds pretentious or over the top. It’s a window into the a world of being particular for the sake of making great experiences. If you need motivation to up your game, whether for lunch or something else, this is a wonderful playbook.

My first “lunch at the agency” wasn’t too shabby. I made the recipe Lentils Folded into Yogurt, Spinach and Basil, complete with a sourdough wheat bread made by my co-worker Drew. Here’s to many more lunches at the shop!


Every Day

For the first time in my life, I can tell you at least one thing about every day of the year that just passed. Not because I developed super memory powers, but because of a shopping whim I had in December 2013.

I was Christmas shopping when I spotted this journal, Every Day – a five-year memory book. I remember feeling guilty when I walked out of the shop with something for me, and no gifts for anyone else. Oops.

Today as I flipped through and reviewed the ups and downs, the thoughts and details of 2014, I am so glad I talked myself into it, and stuck with it through the whole year.


Every day isn’t marked by a profound statement or big happening. There are exciting times, and some a-ha moments, for sure. But there are many, many more of the small details, mundane stuff even, that add up to a full life.

Each morning I sit down with this book. I think about what happened the day before. What did I think about? What did I do? Did I notice anything interesting? The mindfulness and reflections this has brought has been such a surprising gift to myself. Not bad for fifteen bucks.

In 20 years, I’ll remember that I moved in 2014. Maybe I’ll recall running the hardest marathon of my life. But the little stuff – I’m always afraid that will fade away, that these will be the things I forget. These tiny moments and details are like the rug that really ties the room together. I love that I have a collection of them, this tidy, micro way to look back on the year.

To much more of the lovely small stuff (and some big things too) in 2015. Happy New Year!