Confusing the TimesThere once was a beautiful place of retreat, where only a select few were sent. The retreat offered very specialized arts classes, but class participation was not mandatory. Those who sat in class glued small seashells together. Others went on nature hikes around the property.

One particular artist wanted to do both. She had a place at the seashell table, but wanted to get her bearings first. She opted to look around the property, seeking to discover its beauty and to find inspiration in these discoveries before committing to a seashell class.

Throughout the week, she saw cliffs and valleys, birds in the air and critters of the ground, trees and the smell of the rain, and also plenty of sunshine. Wonderful as these were, something was missing for her. Each day she went out looking for it, waiting to experience that familiar feeling, that connection, that opens wide the ability to make a story. Once she got that, she would have what she came for and would be able to sit still in the shell class and make a trinket.

Toward the end of the week, she finally returned to the seashell class to find that some of her friends had been there the whole time and were putting the finishing touches on their projects. She saw that they’d made the most amazing and beautifully intricate items out of the shells.

She suddenly looked around the classroom with a sense of importance. It wasn’t about making tchotchke items from the shells. It was always about working with the convoluted, the details, the complex minutiae. She’d been concerned about the big picture, making a big splash with big projects. She hadn’t seen that the precise placement of the small and diverse shells would have exercised her mind in all the ways needed to strengthen the story writing itself in her head.

As she stood there, admiring the work of her friends, she felt the connection she’d been seeking. Every shell demarcated a decision made, a plot twist, a character’s growth. She looked to her own place at the table, and the pile of shells placed for her at the beginning of the retreat. There are times for lofty thinking and inspiration, and there are times for getting down to task and doing the work.

She sat down and started to look over the abundance of shells, knowing the hard work ahead of her and eager to do it, but there was no time. The retreat was over.

–Jody here. I thought I’d share with you the above, which is a dream I had a couple days ago. From this dream, I woke up thinking, “Work with the shells. Work with the shells.”

Enjoy your shellwork today, my friends.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at