Vision — Bored to Board

"Tomasita Oshiro, who led my vision board workshop, painted these flowers after completing her own vision board." ~Elaine Avila
Tomasita Oshiro, who led my vision board workshop, painted these flowers after completing her own vision board.

I was on a terrific “playdate.” My artist-teacher-friend had gathered about eight moms and their kids into her home in Belen, New Mexico. The kids were running delightfully amok in the backyard, climbing tree houses and petting the horse next door.  The moms were gathered around a table. My friend hosting us said, “Hey, let’s make a vision board!” I thought I would rather die. I was sick to death of goal-setting in the work place.

While I believe in good planning and breaking things down into achievable steps, I also found goal-setting dangerous. Depending on the work setting, I had sometimes seen goal-setting and quotas used as a dare to prove a person couldn’t do something. I’d seen it used as a way to get people fired or to bully them. I’d found it very important to make sure that whatever you said you were going to do was actually going to happen.

Besides, goals tend to work sideways for me. I might knock on the door, but I preferred going through the window. When I write plays, they often end up produced by companies that I never knew existed at the time I started writing the play.

But I adored this friend, now holding her vision board from the previous year before me.  Moms were listening thoughtfully, leaning on the table, which my friend had lovingly set with luscious paper and tempting arts supplies.

I decided to engage after her brief presentation. I asked her about the points she skimmed over. “Why did those two goals not work out last year?” I asked. She considered deeply and then said that they weren’t specific. Make money, but how? Have a show at a gallery, but she hadn’t envisioned making the artwork to go in the gallery.

Impressed by her thoughtfulness, honesty, and enthusiasm, I thought I’d give it a try. She is a smart and caring mom, a talented teacher. All the moms around the table had so much to offer. Who was I to bow out? And those were some colorful pens she’d set out….

She asked each of us to start by doodling a spiral at the center of a large piece of paper. Then she said to put the things I love most there, then to spiral out with words and images that equaled my dreams, specifically and sincerely, for the next year. Then we shared what we drew.

I was impressed. Moms admitted their struggles with work and life balance, their secret dreams, their hopes to do something special with their families — things people tended to leave out of most discussions of “vision.”

The next step was to go home and find images to cut out and paste on a super large piece of poster board. I found that these images revealed what I really cared about. Looking at the board made me happy. I wanted to do things like take my daughter into nature, and I did.  I hadn’t realized how much it mattered to me. I found that many of the things I was forced to focus on, in my current life, were not what I actually cared about. Instead, I wanted to use my life, work, and writing energy to address economic injustice, environmental issues, international concerns.

Thanks to the board, I began to recognize opportunities that crossed my path. For example, when I was asked to attend a retreat of an organization called “Theatre Without Borders” in Santa Fe, with some of the theater artists I most admire in the nation, I suddenly realized that I could help their valuable work by writing about them. They are a network of theater artists around the world who are interested in international exchange, their projects include peace building work, human rights initiatives, inter-cultural diplomacy, sometimes even helping theater artists get out of danger, not unlike Amnesty International. I went up to one of their leaders, who I greatly admired and said, “I know it sounds funny, but I have this vision….” She said it didn’t sound funny at all. I’m going to write an article about their work in a national theater magazine to be published this May. I’ve just written a monologue in response to the Newton massacre that was performed in a Theatre Action that was part of the March on Washington for gun control, and is about to be published in an anthology. A group in Pittsburg is planning to use this monologue as part of program to discuss gun violence in high schools. It might be a small thing, but it makes me feel like, if my talents are a marble, I’m stacking them up on a side of the table I care about.

I’m quite amazed how much of my old life, which wasn’t working, has fallen away. Some of that change led to me moving away from my beautiful friend and my treasured community in New Mexico — it hasn’t all been easy. But these friends are as close to me as ever in my heart. I know we will see each other again. My friend who got me to make the vision board says my family can stay with hers when we visit. She claims we might see more of her than ever. What amazes me about my vision board is that the images I pasted there gradually became the actual focus of my days and my work.


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