A life full of YES

A couple of weeks ago, my 24-year-old niece (whom I adore) asked me if I would doodle her a tattoo. She told me what she wanted: a crescent moon and hanging from its top, her horoscope sign, which is Gemini. She gave me no specifications about style or size, didn’t mention if it would be in color, didn’t tell me where she planned to put it when she got it done. And I didn’t ask. I just said yes.

When I told Chad about it later, enormously honored that she’d asked me, he jokingly said, “No pressure. It’s just something she’ll wear on her skin FOREVER.” I admit that gave me pause, but only for a few seconds. I knew that if she hated what I drew, she didn’t have to use it, but honestly it was more than just that reassuring truth that propelled me forward.

Lately, I’ve been living a life full of YES.

In this YES space, I’ve created custom holiday cards and love doodles, painted a glass full of flowers, a juggler of hearts, an art piece to welcome a baby girl into a gathering of goddesses (such a lovely alternative to a christening). I’ve created illustrations for an online class and a couple of children’s t-shirts, and I’ve sketched up some pretty fun monsters for a friend who, in her very rare spare time, is working on a children’s book.

And, the truth is, I was plagued with self-doubt on every single project. In the best cases, I wasn’t sure I could do what was being requested. In the worst cases, I was positive I couldn’t. Still, if the proposal pulled me, if I felt that whispery yes inside me, I said it. What I lacked in confidence I made up for with enthusiasm, hope, and unmitigated gratitude. Some projects were easier than I imagined they’d be; others pushed me up against the hard (but ultimately expandable) edges of my abilities.

All of them made me a better artist.

In January of this year, I was part of a conversation on Twitter in which people were choosing their “one word,” the word they would live by in 2014. One of my closest friends chose the word “yes,” and as soon as I read that, I knew it was my word too. All my life, I’ve let fear hold me back – fear of not being smart, savvy, talented, experienced, educated, popular, cool, badass, or resilient enough… fear of failure. This year I’ve been attacking that demon head on by saying yes in spite of him, and it’s working. The more things I say yes to, the less fear has a hold of me, which is not to say I don’t get scared anymore. I do all the time, but I run ahead anyway, however clumsily. I figure at least I’ll make fear have to work to stay up with me.

I’m sharing because I think it really may be just this simple: to get unstuck, say YES. Not to everything (we are limited by that pesky 24 hours in a day), but to the things that stir and excite you… and I’m not just talking about art here.


I’d love to hear what you’re saying yes to… or what you would say yes to, if you believed what I’m saying was true. (Which you should. I’m very trustworthy.)


p.s. Here’s the doodle for my niece’s tattoo because I knew, secretly, you wanted to see. : )



  1. Eileen Lebowitz on May 30, 2014 at 4:32 am

    I love your post today. It reflects the theme of an event our women’s group is having in June. “Don’t fear Change …. Change Fear”. Guess I will have to but 2 of your new yes doodles,

    • j on May 30, 2014 at 6:48 am

      Excellent title. I think that’s exactly what’s happening to me.

  2. Terri on May 30, 2014 at 5:35 am

    First off…Love the doodle that goes with this. Second Favorite. The Just Say Yes Girl. Love her and what she stands for. :). Fabulous blog. I need to come from a place of Yes myself. Thanks for giving me a little stirrer for the brain. :). Got the visual on that? Cartoon head with the head popped open with a coffee stirrer thingy just stirring thoughts up? Yeah. Like that.

    • j on May 30, 2014 at 6:55 am

      Ha! I had the image more of a martini stirrer, with olives… but yes, I’m with you. 😀

  3. Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) on May 30, 2014 at 6:31 am

    Hehe, you *are* very trustworthy. 🙂 Have you seen the movie Yes Man with Jim Carey? It was actually quite funny, and seems fitting here. I love your “yes” doodle, and I love your niece’s tattoo doodle even more. What a lucky young lady!

  4. j on May 30, 2014 at 6:56 am

    I haven’t ever seen that. I’ll check Netflix. Meanwhile, thanks for the doodle love, Annie, and if you decide you want a tattoo, you know where to come.

  5. Susan Champlin on May 30, 2014 at 6:59 am

    You’re an inspiration. I’ve been feeling kinda No lately (hearing it outside, adopting it inside), but I’m going to experiment with this—like one of those Twitter memes: #ReplaceNoWithYesInaMovieTItle…except in real life. I’ll let you know how it goes. P.S. I love your Yes doodle AND your niece’s tattoo. Has she had it done yet? She’ll be the rage!

    • j on May 30, 2014 at 7:18 am

      She hasn’t. She said it was “perfect” and now she just needs to save up the money to get it done. : )

      You know what’s kind of funny… on the day Tammy tweeted that her word was “yes,” I’d read a post from someone who was consciously saying “no” more because she felt pulled in too many directions and was having trouble finding her focus. I read her post and couldn’t relate at all, then T said “yes” and all my insides hummed in recognition. I guess we probably bounce back and forth between times when “yes” is what we need to say and then “no” for a while.

      I’m having a lot of fun (with just the occasional pacing and pulling of hair) in the YES place.

  6. Mary on May 30, 2014 at 7:55 am

    Love seeing you grow and transform through art and life. Was wondering when you actually considered yourself an artist?

    • j on May 30, 2014 at 8:50 am

      A friend recently asked me that because I’d called myself a “writer and artist” in a bio and she was surprised. I’d taken a long, long time (years), despite having a creative writing degree and being published, to call myself a “writer.” By comparison, I’ve only been venturing beyond straight-up doodles for about a year.

      I hate to say this, but I suspect my willingness to call myself an artist stems from the fact that I’ve made more money in this art form than I ever did as a writer. That’s not truly a fair comparison since, inexplicably, so much great writing in this world gets done for free. None of us gets paid for our HuffPo posts, or our blogs, or most of the pieces that get accepted on literary journals and websites. Still, I think deep down, the lack of monetary recognition for my writing eroded my confidence.

      I kind of hate that there’s a part of me that accepts the notion that payment is validation. I don’t believe money (especially for creatives) should be the sole or even one of the most important criteria for determining success, but on some level, I feel I’m buying into that definition.

      I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot since listening to an interview with Debbie Millman, whom I admire and am inspired by. She talks about the difference between success in business and success in art, making the point that the same rules don’t apply. I need to write a post about this because I feel so strongly, and my own ambivalence is troubling. Besides, if I write a post, you will all come and help me think it through.

  7. elizabeth marie on May 30, 2014 at 8:19 am

    I just accidentally deleted my comment, so I have to start over. My Girl distracted me (the laundry is taking us weeks to conquer), so I forgot what I said except that i love this post. Your last lines: “I’m sharing because I think it really may be just this simple: to get unstuck, say YES. Not to everything (we are limited by that pesky 24 hours in a day), but to the things that stir and excite you…” are important to me. Oh, here’s what I wanted to share. Four years ago, a friend advised me to write a “Year of the No” contract for myself because I was saying yes to things that not only didn’t excite me, they wore me out, annoyed me, caused resentment, took time away from the things that DID excite and stir me. I like the notion of rewriting that contract now replacing “no” with “yes.” Just to see what happens. My year of the “no” ended kind of early when I said “yes” to graduate school. (the contract is in my Facebook notes, if you ever feel like reading the thing.)

    I also LOVE the tattoo design. Your niece will be able to wear your art on her skin the way I wear my daughter’s art on mine.

    • j on May 30, 2014 at 4:53 pm

      I will definitely go read your NO contract. While I was writing this piece, feeling so strongly the magic and expansion of my YES space, I realized that I haven’t said yes to everything and I wondered if that made my whole point null and void. But then I realized that what I’ve said yes to were the things (and people) who’ve attracted me, the ones that if I said no, it would be out of fear. It’s an important distinction because, you’reright, you can lose yourself in the worst way when you’re buried under the wrong yesses.

      Speaking of our children and tattoos, if you’ve never read this, which I wrote about Dillon and his tattoo, you should. You’ll like it. xo


  8. Lana Angel on May 30, 2014 at 9:56 am

    Marvelous, insightful, witty, loving, inspiring, etc., etc. Is the Yes Girl available in your shop?

  9. juliafehrenbacher on May 30, 2014 at 10:25 am

    J, whenever I read anything that you write, whenever I have the honor of seeing yet another amazing “doodle,” I feel overwhelmed with love….I just LOVE YOU. And I’m so deeply grateful to have you in my life. And then I imagine putting you in my pocket or I imagine you siting on my heart because that’s what happens….I carry you around with me and you make everything better.

    Lately I’ve been saying YES to letting myself feel what I feel…and then giving voice to those feelings however “too” they may seem. I’ve been saying yes to honoring ME over what others may or may not think. (And how huge this feels.)

    Thank you for blessing me, J….

    P.S: I’m so loving that tattoo. I may need to steal that design, though it would need to have a fish dangling and I don’t know if that would be quite as pretty….

    • j on May 30, 2014 at 5:10 pm

      I think you could make a fish look really beautiful in that design. Seriously.

      And thank you so much. I feel the same way about you. Coincidentally, I first found you online when you were in the middle of a YES period yourself. I remember being so drawn to your message… and so not quite ready to step into myself. That was even before The Love Project… I had a lot of evolution to go through.

      You know, I think letting ourselves feel what we feel is one of the hardest things to do, at least for me. Except anger. I’m kind of good at anger. I’ll tell Chad, I just have to be angry right now. I’ll be reasonable later. : ) But feeling sad, or lonely, or lost… those are hard for me to sit with, even though I believe that sitting with them is the beginning of moving through them. You’re a superhero to me (and an inspiration, and a bright light in my life).


  10. Tina Tierson on May 30, 2014 at 11:04 am

    Oh Judy, if you only knew how amazing you are! I wish I had just a thimble full of your talent! The best thing about you is your heart and how it shines in every single piece of your art and your writing. Who wouldn’t love you? I love what Julia wrote because it’s so true. You do make things better. I’ve been (trying) to say “yes” to my new life, even though it’s nothing I would ever have imagined or wanted, but I’ve been discovering some grace in each day. And some of that happens whenever I look at your beautiful badass doodles!! xoxo

    (I love the tattoo as well, but mine would need a dragonfly!)

    • j on May 30, 2014 at 5:40 pm

      “I’ve been discovering some grace in each day.” I love that. (I feel drawn to doodle and/or paint it. Can I?) Sometimes it seems I’m better at mining the days for grace when the days are not what I’d have picked. Isn’t that weird? Maybe it becomes more of a necessity.

      Thank you so much for your sweet, supportive, kickass words. You remind me again how lucky I am to be part of this community. Love warriors, all of us. xo

  11. Vanessa Lowry on May 30, 2014 at 11:40 am

    I would love to see a photo of the tattoo after you niece gets it done!

    • j on May 30, 2014 at 6:23 pm

      I’ll definitely put our request in!

  12. lunajune on May 31, 2014 at 7:01 am

    wild wild wild…. lets just say this… I love this connection with you, from the first moment I saw your cape flying in a tweet all those years ago…
    yesterday I was in the middle of emailing you and thanking you for being such
    and inspiration all these years and how uncanny it is as you are unfolding something
    in yourself it is resonating over here in me… love it when it happens.. my computer crashed so I never got to send it. and I come to see it here and I see the piece about the tattoo , just this morning I was thinking really what else beside the moon would I put on a tattoo… and I see yours… stunning, it’s truly beautiful
    thank you for saying YES and sharing it..and letting those wonderful ripples flow
    out….the waves of inspiration are flowing like crazy
    thank you thank you thank you ♥

    • j on May 31, 2014 at 2:55 pm

      We are cosmically connected, girlfriend. And I like the term “unfolding.” It does feel like that… a little softer than the leapy, lunging of past evolutions. Thank you back, my sweet friend. And, I’m surprised you don’t already have a moon tattoo!

  13. Margret on May 31, 2014 at 8:23 am

    This entire post is as marvelous as I expected it to be. Holding that comment close to your heart, part of it also scared me because you have described me. Me. Right here, on your blog, when we’ve yet to meet, shake hands, and hug. But it encouraged me as well because I am beginning the journey you undertook in January.

    So, thank you for the entire post, and thank you especially for this: “All my life, I’ve let fear hold me back – fear of not being smart, savvy, talented, experienced, educated, popular, cool, badass, or resilient enough… fear of failure. This year I’ve been attacking that demon head on by saying yes in spite of him, and it’s working. The more things I say yes to, the less fear has a hold of me, which is not to say I don’t get scared anymore. I do all the time, but I run ahead anyway, however clumsily. I figure at least I’ll make fear have to work to stay up with me.”

  14. j on May 31, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    You know what the best thing about telling the truth is? The people who, instead of shying away or judging, say, “hey, me too.” I’m just so grateful for this community. Thank you back, Margret. I’m reassured to know we’re heading down this yes path together apart.

  15. Alarna Rose Gray on May 31, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    Lovely tattoo design (I was about to grumble that we didn’t get to see it 😉 ). ‘Yes’ and I have a complex relationship. Definitely going through a ‘No’ phase of life, but that’s not always a bad thing. As you say, they each have their place!

    • j on June 2, 2014 at 8:59 pm

      I can definitely see where YES can lead to not enough boundaries, too much obligation, not enough fun-passion-just-because. Yes, they each have their place time.

  16. Pam on May 31, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Love love love the tattoo design.

    I think saying yes to the the things that excite (and maybe intimidate us a little) is a different proposition than saying yes to everything. Saying yes to everything (when I’ve seen it done) tends to result in unfulfilled commitments and other people picking up the slack.

    As for my yeses–the one that springs to mind is that I’ve said yes to trying Pilates after thinking about it for months and I’m so glad I did! I felt like I was waiting for the perfect time and then I sort of shook myself and realized I might never recognize it if there ever were such a thing, so I signed up.

    • j on June 2, 2014 at 9:06 pm

      Thank you for the tattoo design love!

      Also, besides being bad for the people who are being told yes, saying yes to everything often leads to a loss of healthy space for the person saying yes, and the feeling of being trapped by obligations. The trick is to say yes to all the good (and some of the slightly scary) stuff, and no to the stuff that gets in the way of that. : )

      And I agree completely: there is rarely a perfect time to leap. Sometimes you just have to go for it anyway. Yay you!

  17. Joanne on June 1, 2014 at 1:06 am

    There are universal truths that float around and if you are receptive you will hear them. I have had a big YES! stuck to my computer screen for a few years and lately have added the quote: “I imagine that YES is the only living thing” e.e.cummings. It changes everything about how you engage with the world. It opens up thought patterns. It lets things be. It makes us hope for the future. There are possibilities everywhere. I loved your post.

    • j on June 2, 2014 at 9:09 pm

      YES! (See what I did there?)

      I quoted ee cummings’s “love is a place” poem in my email for this post. I love that you quoted him here in your response.

  18. Chris Edgar on June 1, 2014 at 9:24 am

    Doing music can still result in somewhat of a struggle with the sense that “I’m doing something that’s not valuable or won’t amount to something,” meaning essentially something that’s going to result in the approval of “respectable” people, but nonetheless I am definitely saying yes to involvement in music — I am working on a soundtrack for a nonprofit ad, writing a few songs to be performed by a country artist, and putting together a new, non-animated, web-based show.

    • j on June 2, 2014 at 9:13 pm

      Wow, Chris! That all sounds wonderful! We’re saying yes together. (What different places we’re in now from when we first met, remember?) So glad we’re sort of doing this evolution together. xo

  19. Patti on June 2, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    I love the tattoo doodle. I may have to ask you for my own tattoo doodle

    • j on June 2, 2014 at 9:14 pm

      Thank you, Patti! I loved doing it. I’ll include it on my soon-to-be-released new Doodles & Art page. I (think I’d) love to design more tattoos.

  20. Nina Badzin on June 4, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    This was awesome and a great mantra to think about at the start of a new season. I love the message to say yes to things that stir some excitement in us and even that stir up some fear. Really love the poster!

  21. j on June 5, 2014 at 6:59 am

    I think you’re an example of how well the YES thing can work, Nina. From your publications to your health to your adventures in public dressing rooms… you’re totally doing it. I probably need to write a post about dropping things that turn out not be awesome once you’ve tried them. (Thinking of your outlet shopping adventure.)

  22. Lyn Girdler on June 9, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    Loved this. As usual. Saying yes has had me enjoy more life adventures than not…it’s also had it’s drawbacks – but not very often. Even the drawbacks in the moment turned out to be blessings in the end. So, yes, say Yes. and say it often!

  23. j on June 12, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    Totally agree about the drawbacks over the long haul being mostly positive. Even if I say yes to something and hate it, I learned that I hate it. It’s no longer a question.And so many yesses that don’t work out in and of themselves lead us to the things that do.

  24. Michele Nicholson on June 12, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    I love love the YES doodle! Yes I’m beautiful! Yes I’m insightful! Yes I can do it!

    • j on June 12, 2014 at 8:32 pm

      Aw, Michele, thank you! And yes, you are and you can. xo

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