“Sometimes the way forward isn’t always forward”

e bond
e bond
Photo by Taryn Lahey

Meet e bond

Eight years ago I moved to a little island in northern California called, Alameda. I’m an artist and my whole life has basically been about books in some way because I have degrees in graphic design, book art, and poetry so it’s always about reading, making books, and designing books. It’s been a mixture of these kinds of vocations. I’ve been a college professor teaching design, I’ve worked in design for companies like Anthropologie, and The Gap, and currently I’m working at Athleta, a performance wear company that is for women by women. And I make art and my art is based in book forms. I’ve always had all these balls in the air and I notice for me it’s better that I’m doing at least two of them at the same time. Whenever I’ve tried to do only one thing, something feels like it’s lacking. For me it’s all about relationships. I’ve noticed that even in my work it’s all about “this” bumping up against “this,” at least two things have to be happening for the magic to start or be most potent within me. You’ll always find me with more than one job even if I don’t “need” more than one job in terms of money. That’s the kind of thing I’ve known about myself since I was twenty but it took me until now to believe it. I guess I didn’t think it was the right thing so I spent years backpedalling to get back to what I already knew. I remember leaving art school at twenty-one with a degree in graphic design and art history and not wanting a full time job from the beginning. My professors asked if I wanted to be placed in a job and I knew I wanted to be freelance and try a bunch of things. I think that’s the biggest thing young people need to learn and older people need to remember; to trust what we know about ourselves.

What would you say has been the biggest shift in your life since turning 40?

When I was 38, I was a professor and I was working under my studio name, roughdrAftbooks, making books for companies wholesale and teaching in Philly. And for years and years I was always saying I wanted to get a masters degree. Finally it came to a head where I told myself to go and do it before it was “too late.” I knew I was giving up a lot; I had a really sweet wonderful life in Philadelphia. I had twenty years of friends, community, I owned an amazing studio live-work space, I was doing what I love to do. I thought if you’re going to do this you better go for the exact thing you want. There was a program at Oakland at Mills College that was a hybrid program of book art and creative writing. This MFA was putting the words together with the forms. I sold everything and drove across the country to do this masters program.

I was leaving everything behind to start over and start this new thing, it wasn’t just starting school but it was starting in this new place. It was incredibly lonely and confusing even though my friends from Philly visited a lot. It felt completely foreign. I’ve literally been in other countries where I didn’t speak the language and I felt more at home than I felt in northern California. It took me a really long time to figure out how humans communicate here. I still haven’t figured out if this is the place but I’m still here. I love this little town. It’s the opposite of what I left. I do that a lot, I like to experience the complete opposite. Philly was big and always open, loud, I lived next to a hipster bar and Alameda is quiet and slow and I live next to a beach. It’s completely different. Again, I like that opposition.

When do you feel you are most powerful?

That’s easy, that’s just art-making. That’s the thing I have to do just to survive. I feel most in line with what I am supposed to be doing in the universe when I’m making art. It doesn’t even matter what the making is, most of the time, the magic happens in my sketchbook. Those are the moments when everything else fuzzes out.

What are the top 3 most important things to you right now?

Understanding my body more. I feel like I’m having to relearn what my body needs the older I get. I can’t keep living the status quo. I’m really in that at the moment. I’m tracking things and seeing what’s happening. I’m trying to figure out how to go with the changes and not hold on to how it used to be. It’s really hard.

I’m trying to focus on the things I really want to make. I feel more urgency to answer the question: how do I really want to be spending my time?

I feel like so much lately has been about surviving, It’s been really different and means that I’m focused on just getting through one horrible thing at a time. Covid amplified my already unhealthy issues with time. I often feel like I won’t have time for all the things I’m trying to do or make. I started seeing what I already felt to be true, life is a finite experience. It helped to slow me down and be present with whatever it is that day.

How do you make sure your actions are aligned with what’s most important to you?

That goes back to the body. I can feel it. I can feel the answer before I can even think of the answer. I can look back on the wrong choices I’ve made and I knew. I feel like we all have this intuitive sense but most of us are taught not to listen.

What seeds are you planting today for the future?

It’s harder to answer that right now because the past year has been about the immediacy of everything but I’ve been doing a lot of longer term projects and research. I’m really allowing these things to ruminate and I don’t know what they’re going to become. The seeds are being excited about the research of the thing and not necessarily the outcome

What advice would you give someone who is interested in redesigning midlife?

First I would tell them, it doesn’t have to look like everyone else. You don’t have to sell your life and drive across the country to have a change. You’ve really got to sit with yourself and go back to that intense listening inside and ask yourself, what is the goal? Is it just change for change’s sake? Even if you don’t know what it is, is there something you know you want to experience that you can’t from where you are now? How can you start inching toward it? My mom always used to say, “Sometimes the way forward isn’t always forward. Sometimes you’ve got to go in a circle or you gotta go backward two steps or sideways to get to the thing. You might have to go around something or you literally might have to go backwards.” So, I think, don’t be afraid to go in reverse. People can be so hell bent on progress or upward mobility and I’m totally okay with taking a demotion or going backwards if that means that I got off course somehow and now I’m finding my way to where I need to be. So I think that would be my advice. Don’t try to force one path. That takes the pressure off each decision. Give yourself permission to veer off and see the side attraction and then get back on the road when you’re ready. Because if you miss it and power through to your destination, sometimes it’s not there on the way back.

How can people connect with you and your work?

I’m on Instagram and my website has all the links to book work, graphic work, art work, and you can email me from there.

Welcome to my Power Profiles Series

Here I introduce you to powerful midlife role models in our community. May these stories inspire you, motivate you, and show you what is possible.

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Hi, I'm Sara!

I'm here to reclaim the term 'midlife' and embrace the power these years offer us.

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About the author

Sara Smeaton

I help you discover the joy and power in midlife and navigate the transitions on your own terms. I am passionate about changing the narrative about aging and am trying to fill the world with profiles of real life people who are thriving and more alive after 40 than ever before. The best is yet to come and there are role models all around us. Book your free 30-minute connection call.

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