Before I moved to New York City, I didn’t understand just how chancy weather can be.  Growing up in Los Angeles (where the weather is almost always the same — sunny), I assumed that when fall came, the leaves all turned color and stayed that way for a while.  Then winter came bringing snow, and the snow stayed all white and pristine until spring arrived.

Not so.

Fall color?  If you happen to get a good freeze, everything will magically turn colorful practically overnight and you get a solid blanket of flaming reds, golds and oranges, interspersed with a few everygreens for contrast.  If the cool-down is slower, some of the trees will turn, while others remain green.  Get hit with a hard rainstorm or strong wind in the middle of the shift, and some trees will lose their leaves before others change color.  That blanket of fall color looks rather frayed around the edges.

Same goes for snow.  Here in Manhattan, sometimes we get it, sometimes we don’t.  When we do, the stores in midtown rush to clear it off the sidewalks, and within a couple of hours you hardly know it was there, except for the grey slush in the gutters.  Fortunately, we have parks, and I live across the street from one of them.  Here the snow stays longer, though it is soon trampled with a melange of footprints of various species — mostly human, canine and squirrel.  Often the snow melts away completely between storms, and we are left with mud.  Morgan (my dog) gets a lot of baths in the winter.  (Good thing she’s really cooperative about them.)

So, I have learned to recognize and savor those moments when the weather is stunningly beautiful: A gentle spring rainfall that brings up the smell of earth. The first night of summer that is warm enough not to need a sweater as I dine at an outdoor cafe.  The two or three days when the tree outside my window is golden and still has all its leaves. The first snowfall.  The first crocuses of spring peeking through the snow.  A perfect rainbow.

Creative ideas are like these moments of glorious weather: they arrive suddenly, almost unexpectedly, and can fade away in an instant.  Unless we save them.

In 2001 a sketchbook changed my life.  Up to that time, busy with music and photography careers, I continually pushed new ideas to the back of my mind.  They weren’t relevant to what I was doing at the time, and I figured that I would get to them “someday.” 

Then, in the space of a few months, everything about my life changed.  The economy tanked, I lost my job, the photography business came to screeching halt, I moved to a new home, 9/11 happened.  Every assumption I had made about what I would do with my life was swept off the table.  Unemployed, with time on my hands, I decided to do one of those things I had shoved to the back burner for years: I enrolled in a ceramics class.   (Thank you, Visa.)

It was as if someone had unlocked a closet in my mind, or had turned up the heat on that back burner.  In the next days and weeks, ideas came flooding into my mind. I bought a sketchbook (and then another, and another) and wrote them down.

Many of those ideas are still in the sketchbooks — time being what it is, I haven’t had the opportunity to develop all of them.  But it was the act of taking those ideas seriously that changed everything.  Listening to the inspiration that was coming to me, writing down the ideas, led to choosing which ones to pursue.  Each idea I acted on was like a door that opened to a new series of ideas.  Little did I imagine at the time I bought that first sketchbook to draw pottery that it would lead to where I am now — a published book and another on the way, traveling around the country teaching quilting, and more.

Don’t let your ideas slip away like fleeting moments of beautiful weather.  Christmas is coming — ask for a sketchbook as a gift (or buy one for yourself).  It might just change your life.