Ep 1: Writing and Rituals with Natalia Ilyin

Ep 1: Writing and Rituals with Natalia Ilyin

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Welcome to the very first episode of Ground & Gratitude, a new podcast from designer and entrepreneur Lorilee Rager.

To kick things off, Natalia Ilyin joins Lorilee on the show to discuss routines; the rituals that keep us grounded, calm the mind, and make space for creative ideas to thrive. Whether it’s pouring yourself a cup of tea or sitting down to write morning pages, even small routines can lead to transformation.

Natalia is a Professor of Design, Design History and Criticism at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, and is also Founding Faculty of the MFA in Graphic Design at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Natalia is an author who recently published her third book, Writing for the Design Mind.


  • On Natalia’s playlist: “How Lucky” by John Prine
  • Breaking destructive cycles and turning bad habits into positive routines
  • The power of storytelling
  • Letting go of perfection and the academic, omnipxotent voice
  • Writing your truth
  • …and dealing with conflict
  • One tool for the G&G toolbox

Mentioned in this episode:

Listen wherever you get your podcasts! Handy links are below too Apple and Spotify!

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Episode 1 Transcript

[00:00:00] Lorilee Rager: Hey, I’m Lorilee Rager and this is Ground and Gratitude. It’s a podcast about designing the life you want, one that not only grows but also gives. 

Before we start today’s episode, I’d like to tell you about where I bank, Her Bank by Legends Bank. This episode of Ground and Gratitude is sponsored by them. Her Bank celebrates, honors, and supports women, especially entrepreneurs, by providing financial services and resources through a core team of experienced female bankers, which is so reassuring to me. Her Bank creates a bridge to help women overcome barriers when it comes to money, conversations, and decisions, all while providing them with a better banking experience. Check out Her-Bank.com to learn more. (Her Bank is a brand of Legends Bank. Legends Bank is member fdic / equal housing lender.)

I am Lorilee Rager, an optimistic entrepreneur, a small business owner at Thrive Creative Group, a graphic designer, a writer, a professor with a master’s degree from Vermont College of Fine Arts, living a sober life, loving my dogs, chapstick and my two teenage boys, and with one year of sobriety under my belt. I decided to start a podcast because I wanted to continue my own research and understanding of why I live the design life that I do, to understand why I chose gratitude, and why grounding is so important. The kinds of people that I will be talking to are creatives, entrepreneurs, doctors, professional business women and men, mothers, resilient humans, and maybe just your neighbor next door who’s been through some hard shit. So when you listen to the show, you’ll be hearing really honest conversations in hopes that it may help you get through your own hard time and understand where you can find some gratitude in the hardships of life. I’m excited to kick off the podcast with our very first episode.

I live just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, and I’ve always loved Dolly Parton. “9 to 5” is an anthem. It’s one of my favorite songs. But I never really understood how to work only nine to five. I mean, who does that? It felt out of reach as a designer and an entrepreneur with demanding clients, not to mention kiddos to feed, and people pleasing tendencies, perfectionism, poor boundaries, and a few not so great habits to boot. Basically what I’m trying to say is the word routine wasn’t even in my vocabulary until just a few years ago when I was in grad school. That is when I met my guest Natalia Ilyin. Natalia is a professor of design, design, history and criticism at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. She’s also founding and core faculty for the MFA in graphic design at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Natalia is an author too. Her latest book is called Writing for the Design Mind. Natalia is here to talk about that word, routine, that was not in my vocabulary, and how rituals like writing can get you grounded, can get you clear on who you are, your own values, and how it helps you understand the world around you.

Welcome, Natalia. Thank you so much for being here. 

[00:03:59] Natalia Ilyin: I’m so glad to be here Lorilee, I cannot tell you. 

[00:04:04] Lorilee Rager: Well, it’s an absolute honor and excites me very much to have a good conversation with you today. So I will just start out with a general kickoff question. And that is to tell me what song is on repeat on your playlist today, or YouTube channel, or video.

[00:04:25] Natalia Ilyin: [Laughter] I notice how you’re switching that up because I have no playlists. Who do you think I am? I’ve had like one song that I listen to all the time with. John Prine’s, what is that one? “How Lucky”. That’s what it’s called. 

[00:04:41] Lorilee Rager: Oh yes. 

[00:04:42] Natalia Ilyin: So I have one song and I listen to that one song. Exactly. Yes. 

[00:04:46] Lorilee Rager: It’s a great song. Anything John Prine is wonderful. 

[00:04:49] Natalia Ilyin: I absolutely agree. What a writer he was, you know. He was an amazing writer. 

[00:04:54] Lorilee Rager: I know. I was going to say fun fact is I grew up very close to Muhlenberg County, 

[00:05:01] Natalia Ilyin: Oh. 

[00:05:02] Lorilee Rager: which is his song “Paradise”. 

[00:05:03] Natalia Ilyin: Yeah. Where they, the guy trucked the whole town away, basically. 

[00:05:09] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, where Peabody, 

[00:05:10] Natalia Ilyin: Because it was Peabody’s mines. 

[00:05:14] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:05:14] Natalia Ilyin: Yeah. I think it’s a real talent to be able to make something look like you just tossed it off the way his songs were. You know, he just, uh, oh, it’s just some guy picking up a guitar and saying a few odd things. But if you really look at the craft of it, it’s incredibly well-written. But of course I have to bring everything back to writing. 

[00:05:31] Lorilee Rager: I totally agree. That’s one of the main reasons I asked you to be on here, because of the writing. Because it is, it’s something that I think a lot of people do and care about, but maybe don’t realize. Just like in John Prine lyrics, it comes back to the writing, just like you were saying. 

[00:05:49] Natalia Ilyin: Well, you know, you know, with the book you just wrote, um, how hard it is to make something sound calm and relaxed the way you do. You know, when you’re discussing a friend or a relative, you know, that takes you hours to write, but it sounds as though you just tossed it off. 

[00:06:09] Lorilee Rager: Right. 

[00:06:09] Natalia Ilyin: That’s, that’s a sign of good writing as far as I’m concerned. 

[00:06:12] Lorilee Rager: Sounds simple, but it’s not easy. 

[00:06:16] Natalia Ilyin: [Laughter]. Simple but not easy. 

[00:06:17] Lorilee Rager: It’s what I say. Yeah. 

[00:06:18] Natalia Ilyin: That’s nice. 

[00:06:19] Lorilee Rager: Well, on that note then, what, something I wanted to talk to you about today that stems back to the book I wrote, my thesis for those listeners who don’t know, my grad school thesis that, um, I just finished a few months ago was, what really taught me how to do the writing was, um, reading your book, Writing for the Design Mind and learning about where you wrote, um, at the very beginning about rituals and routines, which is really something that wasn’t even in my vocabulary prior to grad school. So I just really thought we would start out asking about that.

[00:07:04] Natalia Ilyin: Well, you know, rituals and routines, that’s so funny, you would say that. I am such a ritual and routine person. Um, but you know, I wasn’t always. I was, when I was a young thing like you, you know, I was just running all over the place. Every day was different. I was wake up and drama was my idea of a good time. You know, if, if I could be, have a dramatic day where I threw a boyfriend out or something that was, that was just the greatest. I loved that. But when I finally came to myself, when I was in my early forties, um, it became clear to me that that was baloney and that if I wanted to do something in life, I would have to get my act together. And the way to get it together was to have routines and rituals. And it sounds so boring and you think, oh my God, that sounds really awful. But, but routine is really the key to work. And if you, and I’m not saying that you’re doing exactly the same thing every day, but routine and ritual are very much the same thing. You know, they, they calm the mind. They make you not have to invent the world every morning. And they allow you to have the space to have creative ideas. So the whole drama of the artistic life is really bologna. And the real people who really do work are the people who have routines and rituals. You know, I hate to break it to you. You drama queens out there, but that’s what it is. 

[00:08:31] Lorilee Rager: I totally, that was the, one of the first things I realized as I was trying to write and knew that I wanted to write that I had to change that chaos, and, uh, I felt like I was running a graphic design ER, and thought we need to, we need to figure out a way to quiet this down, so. 

[00:08:51] Natalia Ilyin: Well, don’t you think, Lorilee, don’t you think sometimes we invent the drama in order to not have to write. 

[00:08:58] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely. It’s, it’s the perfect excuse to blame a busy client or a hungry kiddo. Yes, absolutely. 

[00:09:05] Natalia Ilyin: Yeah, that day. 

[00:09:06] Lorilee Rager: That’s very, very true. It was a great excuse, yeah, until I really wanted to put something on the page and I really wanted to. So that’s where I took a really hard look at bad habits and then really turned those around into new habits that became rituals. And that was something that, um, in your book you talk about at the very beginning, that setting a place, a safe space, a desk, your cup of tea, you know, your favorite blanket. 

[00:09:39] Natalia Ilyin: Yeah. Yeah. You got to have the thing, you have a little blankie there, you know, everything. 

[00:09:43] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:09:44] Natalia Ilyin: So notice that the way we’re speaking of these things, it makes you look like the bad person, right? Like you had bad habits, you were the drama queen. Actually, I called your listeners drama queens, so I just did that. Oops. Um, but the truth of the matter is it’s not your fault that you, um, put things, blocks in the road to keep yourself from making things. Your society has taught you to do that. The society doesn’t want you to be creative. Creative people cause trouble. So, you know, there there’s, there’s a lot of people that are telling you that there’s something wrong with you, and, and there are a lot of people who don’t want you to write, and so they make it so that you blame yourself and get into a whole cycle of self shaming and self blaming, when all you need to do is to step away from that whole thing and just write your truth.

[00:10:46] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, that’s exactly right. 

[00:10:47] Natalia Ilyin: It’s, it’s really hard to get out of there. 

[00:10:49] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, to break that cycle was part of what I learned just through the writing ritual of the every morning morning pages, which was something you had told me about in grad school. And just in that act of that very small ritual that wasn’t life changing, it didn’t alter my entire schedule, it didn’t derail the rest of the day’s chaos. But it was a morning, short little moment where I began to write there that I, actually gave me the clarity for exactly what you’re saying, where I began to identify those roadblocks, or my own self-sabotage, or where I couldn’t understand where I couldn’t hold solid banker’s hours or like Dolly Parton’s nine to five. I couldn’t, I couldn’t juggle it all. Right, and I wasn’t doing it successfully before grad school and before your book, but I didn’t realize it or have maybe mindfulness to it. Um, until I read your book and did your exercises. 

[00:11:56] Natalia Ilyin: When I think of all the things you’ve done in the last few years, it is unbelievable. And I think about your listeners, they may be at the beginning of your road, you know, they may beginning up their own road, you know, they may have gone through what you went, you’ve been going through, um, 10 years ago. But, but it’s always good to come back to those basic little rituals and those little routines and to, uh, reevaluate what is happening in your life and what is going forward. I’d like to say about morning pages, morning pages have a lot of adherence. A lot of people like that. And it, the first time I ever heard of that was Natalie Goldberg who wrote a book called Writing Down the Bones, and she was an advocate of that. And then it was picked up by, uh, The Artist’s Way, who was the wonderful woman who wrote The Artist’s Way? 

[00:12:47] Lorilee Rager: Julia Cameron. 

[00:12:48] Natalia Ilyin: Julia Cameron, that’s right. So, so that has a whole history and the reason it has a history is that it works. So I suggest if somebody is sitting out there going, “gosh, I’d like to write and, but I’m a designer. Designers don’t write.” Just, just get yourself a cheesy little notebook, as we said, not a big old expensive journal, and write things down, three pages a day every morning and the world will open up to you. It really will. 

[00:13:20] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yep. That’s exactly right. And you have to schedule it, which, which was really important and made it a non-negotiable.

[00:13:28] Natalia Ilyin: Yes. 

[00:13:29] Lorilee Rager: And it was only one thing. It was the only one first step, or the 1% I call it. But if you, in my book, if you do one, that 1%, a year from now that’s 365% that you’ve done then. 

[00:13:45] Natalia Ilyin: [Laughter]. I hadn’t thought about it that way. 

[00:13:47] Lorilee Rager: 1% is easier to swallow, I think. 

[00:13:50] Natalia Ilyin: Yeah. 

[00:13:50] Lorilee Rager: Just write those three pages in the morning with no agenda, with no, but exactly like you said, in an ugly notebook from the grocery store or whatever composition notebook, because if you spend too much time on the pretty notebook, I don’t actually want to use it or write in it. Just like you said. 

[00:14:06] Natalia Ilyin: I can’t tell you, people always think, “Natalia’s a writer. I’m going to give her a journal for Christmas.” Let me just be clear on, I don’t need any more beautiful journals from people. Much as I love a present, I don’t use them, they’re too beautiful. I just have a big stack of beautiful journals and I write in a cheesy notebook from the dollar store.

[00:14:25] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:14:25] Natalia Ilyin: That’s the way to do it.

[00:14:26] Lorilee Rager: I do the exact same thing. Um, well, let me ask you, if you can share, if you would like to share anything, any one thing in your own rituals that you, that’s your favorite ritual, um, when it comes to writing. It doesn’t even have to be a daily thing, but 

[00:14:43] Natalia Ilyin: Oh, well, first of all, I’d like to interject that, you know, it’s not that I’m like the white witch of writing. I mean, I’m not going around, you know, like smudging things and, you know, blowing on crystals. Although I do have a crystal and I really like my crystals. 

[00:14:56] Lorilee Rager: I don’t even have one. I want a crystal. 

[00:14:58] Natalia Ilyin: Oh, I have a crystal. Yes, I do. Anyway, I’m not, you know, it’s not like I am this person who’s in a robe or something with the rituals. It’s just, what you want to do is repeat actions every day and do a little amount, as you say, the 1%. Okay. Now, what was your question? 

[00:15:15] Lorilee Rager: What is one ritual that you, 

[00:15:16] Natalia Ilyin: Oh, what is a ritual that I do? Well, I am a, I’m a, I’m a big coffee ritual person and a big tea ritual person. As a matter of fact, you know, where I teach at VCFA, uh, Vermont College of Fine Arts, one of the places I teach, um, I’ve kind of become this weird tea drinking person that people think that I like love tea and everything like that. And it’s not so much, I mean, I like tea and everything, but what I like is the ritual of tea time. Because what happens is first of all, you don’t need calories, which is important to me because I’m always watching my weight, and you can have a cup of tea with a student or with anybody and talk. And that’s really what it is. So it, this ritual of tea time provides an opportunity for everybody put the phone down and talk. So that’s why, I guess that’s my favorite ritual. Tea, tea time. 

[00:16:11] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. I totally can see that, and agree. It’s, it’s a very grounding, uh, and anxiety reducing practice that I’ve adopted as well as, and as much as I like, 

[00:16:23] Natalia Ilyin: So you ended up drinking tea? 

[00:16:26] Lorilee Rager: I got a favorite mug. I got my favorite tea. And it became almost where I knew it was going to write when I heard the teapot boil and I got the favorite mug, which has a French bulldog on it because of my puppy. And, you know, then I began to take a little deeper breath and it made it easier to do the task of writing, which I really wanted to do. But I totally think that’s a great ritual. 

[00:16:52] Natalia Ilyin: Because all of these things reduce anxiety. So, what is anxiety? Anxiety is fear. Plain old gut wrenching fear. And when you’re in a situation where you don’t know what’s going to come out of your unconscious, which is also known as writing, it’s terrifying to your unconscious. So when you teach your unconscious that it is safe, then it will, it’ll talk back to you. It’ll give you good ideas. It’ll come out, it’ll come out of hiding. So treat your unconscious, like you would a child. And you know, when a child is nervous or anxious, what do you do? You go to those soothing routines. So you’re treating yourself, you’re treating yourself like a child. That sounds a little strange, but you are. That’s actually called loving yourself. It’s like, people would say, “oh you should love yourself.” I hate that, when people go, “oh, love yourself first, then love others.” People who have problems loving themselves have no idea what that means. 

[00:17:55] Lorilee Rager: Right. 

[00:17:55] Natalia Ilyin: Love yourself first, right? 

[00:17:57] Lorilee Rager: Yes. 

[00:17:57] Natalia Ilyin: So to love yourself first means treat yourself the way you would treat a child, any child. 

[00:18:02] Lorilee Rager: Right.

[00:18:03] Natalia Ilyin: And that’s loving yourself. 

[00:18:05] Lorilee Rager: That’s exactly right. 

[00:18:05] Natalia Ilyin: Like take care of yourself. 

[00:18:06] Lorilee Rager: Yes. In recovery we talk about that all the time, your inner child. Um, and then, if you don’t know our topic this morning’s meeting was not knowing what self-love is. 

[00:18:18] Natalia Ilyin: You’re joking. 

[00:18:19] Lorilee Rager: I’m not, literally. I will send you the message. 

[00:18:21] Natalia Ilyin: Oh, that’s great. 

[00:18:24] Lorilee Rager: But it was about, but they do maybe understand what self respect is and esteem, and you can, you can live esteemable acts, and that’s something we can understand a little more, until you can develop what self love is, and how you take care of that inner child that you’ve ignored because of your busy clients and your busy teaching job and all of that. So, yeah, that’s really, really important. All from a cup of tea.

[00:18:54] Natalia Ilyin: I do have a lot of tea and I do love those tea gifts, although I have said negative things about journal gifts, I’m very pro-tea gifts. 

[00:19:02] Lorilee Rager: Good to know. 

[00:19:03] Natalia Ilyin: I’m just saying that anybody who wants to send me tea, I’m here for it. 

[00:19:07] Lorilee Rager: Noted. Tea and chocolate. Noted. 

[00:19:09] Natalia Ilyin: Oh, yes. I just, I’m just asking for presents here. We should move on. Yeah. 

[00:19:14] Lorilee Rager: It’s all right. Okay. Well, speaking of moving on, um, the next thing I wanted to talk about was a little bit about, it’s something that’s just interesting to me because I get told often that I’m a good storyteller and very much enjoyed it as a child, telling stories or maybe little white lies for fun or things like that, but. 

[00:19:35] Natalia Ilyin: Sure.

[00:19:35] Lorilee Rager: I was just wondering in general, um, why, why do you think that we, write? Why do you think that we make marks, which is also in your book, but that also connects to the, sorry, this is three questions, pick one. Why do we tell stories? Why do you think?

[00:19:51] Natalia Ilyin: Oh my gosh, what a fabulous question, which I have no answer for, you rat. 

[00:19:56] Lorilee Rager: It’s okay.

[00:19:57] Natalia Ilyin: Well, first of all, let me just, let me just take that piece by piece. So you are a fabulous storyteller. It’s not that you sit there and tell yarns or something like that. You know how to create an environment that people want to listen and then how to create a hook. You hook them in, something happens, and there’s usually, in your case, a funny or bittersweet conclusion, right. So that’s telling a story. So why do we tell stories? You’re part of the great Southern tradition of literature of women, humorous slash they’re not really humorous, they’re, there are people who identify the oppositions in life and the strange, ironic twists in life, and they do it so that they’re, people get the impression they’re being entertained, but actually they’re getting a life lesson. That’s usually what happens with Southern women writers and I, I count you as part of that tradition. Whether you like it or not, you’re stuck there. Um, and so southerners, and I’m just going to say blanket things about southerners cause I’m half Southern so I feel like I can say that. 

[00:21:09] Lorilee Rager: You can, yes. 

[00:21:11] Natalia Ilyin: Southerners have held onto the storytelling tradition in a much clearer and, and more valued way, uh, than, uh, other people have in the states. And I don’t know why that is, but, and that’s something I don’t have the qualifications to answer or talk about really. But I do, I do know that when, uh, when I’m around Southern relatives or people that I like who are from the South, the storytelling comes out in a way that it doesn’t in other places. And I think that that’s one of the ways that, that families stay close knit and, um, that societies stay close-knit is by storytelling. 

[00:21:55] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. I do agree with that with societies. 

[00:21:56] Natalia Ilyin: It tells us who we are. Cause it’s really, yeah, it’s related to identity. This is who you are. When I was growing up, we sat around every Saturday. I had a big family, came from a big family, half Southern, half Russian, very weird. Anyway, uh, we sat around the table and, on Saturdays, and we told stories, family stories that we had all heard before. And we told them just to laugh, right. Or just, I don’t know what we told them for, but we told them. And I think that that had played a huge part in the fact that all of my sisters write, and one of my sisters is novelist, Anna. Um, but we all write. And we all write, we all tell stories. So, so it’s, uh, it’s a huge thing that you brought up for me because I feel that storytelling knits together a society. And when stories in a society are vastly different then you run into trouble, so. 

[00:22:53] Lorilee Rager: Yeah.

[00:22:54] Natalia Ilyin: See, look what you, I don’t know what your question was. We ended up there. 

[00:22:56] Lorilee Rager: I know but it was, it was a perfect answer. 

[00:22:59] Natalia Ilyin: What was your question? 

[00:23:00] Lorilee Rager: It was, why do we tell stories? But that was, that was absolutely beautifully said. Beautifully said. 

[00:23:05] Natalia Ilyin: But you know what? Another thing about stories is that they tell us who we are. They, they relax us. Again, that’s another anxiety reducing thing. So I remember when I was a kid, I was probably the only kid you ever knew who had panic attacks, but I did. And, they didn’t call them that then cause it was like a thousand years ago, but that’s what they were. And I learned young that if I had a panic attack, what I needed to do was find my grandmother and get her to tell me a story. And my grandmother was a huge Southern storyteller, so she would just launch in on something about some great grandfather or something or other, in the farm, right. And I would, it would relax me and I knew that I could get over it if she would tell me a story. So I would be lying there like, “get Granny, I need to hear a story.” Right, so storytelling gives us a place of safety and it makes us feel not alone in the universe, which is the great problem today. Now you wonder why, why is 33% of all, you know, young people have depression issues. I made that up, but it is something like 30%. 

[00:24:21] Lorilee Rager: Right, sure. 

[00:24:22] Natalia Ilyin: Right, like diagnosed. Well, how many stories are in their lives that are the kinds of stories that, that make them feel safe. 

[00:24:31] Lorilee Rager: Exactly. 

[00:24:32] Natalia Ilyin: And how many stories are stories that are created by the media that tell them that the world is ending? 

[00:24:37] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Or hold it in, or box it up, which is, I speak from experience, very unhealthy. But telling the story is another way that connects you with people, connects you with strangers, connects you with, uh, like-minded, in my case, graphic designers and, and creates that safe space. And I think just like you said about your grandmother telling stories, in my hypnosis therapy, that’s one of the grounding anchor thoughts is, is the, uh, a story with my grandmother. And it’s just a really powerful way to, to reduce the anxiety. Yeah. 

[00:25:18] Natalia Ilyin: It breaks it. 

[00:25:19] Lorilee Rager: Yes. That cycle. 

[00:25:21] Natalia Ilyin: I don’t know what that is. It tells you who you are, that you’re not alone. 

[00:25:24] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yeah. That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. Well, yeah, that’s beautiful. 

[00:25:28] Natalia Ilyin: We do, we sound like two broken people. We have to start sounding like we overcame. Because we have.

[00:25:38] Lorilee Rager: That’s right. That’s right. Well, so it’s interesting how writing can connect to all of that. It was never something prior to grad school that I ever connected because the storytelling or being confident in writing, feeling like I could have a voice was something that I just didn’t, didn’t think was allowed or maybe there was a level of permission or acceptance or that it needed to be the perfect piece before I ever showed it to anyone in the world. And that was just, very many takeaways from your book, but, you know, understanding that, that my voice was okay, or permission, um, and not to try to have this strong academic or academia voice, that I didn’t have to come right out of the gate with that, was something that you taught me.

[00:26:34] Natalia Ilyin: Yeah. Yeah. So the academic voice, let’s talk a little bit about that. Anybody who’s listened to you and wants to write, um, they may be in, in school and if they’re in school, they often feel as though they have to write like a PhD. Got to write like, I can’t use the “I” voice, you know, I can’t use the first person. I have to make it all the “one does this and that” and use big words, big words you’ve heard from other professors and stuff like that. That is not true. Especially now. It was kind of true when I first started. I had to write a much more academic voice because people still believed in, uh, the omnipotence of the third person, that there was someone back there, it was like the man behind the curtain, in academic writing that, that was, that was telling you the truth about things, right. But these days in our post post-modern era, people don’t believe in the guy behind the. That’s what postmodernism did. It’s smashed that. We don’t believe in the unidentified voice. I mean, I don’t. Others don’t either, trust me. So, and that’s, that’s one of our problems because we can’t figure out whom to believe these days. But we don’t really believe that because we say, that somebody says something to us that it’s true. Whereas people really did believe that, um, in the modern era and before. So all this to say that you don’t have to write that way anymore. As a matter of fact, people trust you if you put yourself into it. They trust the voice. They say, “okay, this is what Natalia thinks. I’m going to trust that this is what she thinks. And I’m going to make my own, um, decisions about whether to, whether what she thinks has anything to do with me and anything, will affect my life in any way. But I know who talking and I know it is she.” Okay. That’s that. So what you want to do is then just speak in your own voice and make sure that the person knows who you are as you have your ideas.

Um, so Yan van Turin, who was my advisor, he was, uh, a very, very well-known Dutch designer. He sort of invented social activism and design in the 60’s. He used to say that the ethical stance in design is to show the conditions of the production. In other words, when you have the model on the, you know, the, the piece of paper, what do you call that? The seamless. And she’s prancing around, show the edge of the seamless paper so that the student, the person who’s looking at that says, “oh, that’s a setup. That’s a set. I see that that model is standing on a set.” That’s the ethical stance, according to him. He was a flaming Marxist, so you’ll have to forgive him. Anyway, that’s the same thing you need to do in writing. You need to show the conditions of the production. So you say, “I’m sitting here in my living room and I’m thinking this thought, I’m wearing scuffs and I’m thinking this thought.” And then the person, that’s the ethical stance in my opinion, so that the person can make their own decisions about whether to believe you or not. 

[00:30:04] Lorilee Rager: Yes, yes. You said that, yeah, I don’t need to tell them how to feel, but if I can describe the room and pay attention to the small details, which I think in my mind stand out more, small things, um, yeah, it can absolutely bring them to their own opinion. 

[00:30:24] Natalia Ilyin: Small things are it. I mean, if you start talking in universals, you know, if, if I had been reading your work and I heard all these universals, like “this is the way it is”, you know, and “we as designers feel this and that”, I would have been, had the old red pen out in one second. But when you say, you know, “I really liked the stamp and the stamp means to me, you know, I it’s from Burma and I’m really interested in,” you’ve got me. I believe you. You’re not talking in universals. You’re talking about very small things that lead me to think about universals without you telling me. 

[00:31:02] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Right, right. And that’s something that I learned from the whole writing process. Exactly that is that just by telling my story, maybe about my grandmother in the garden, or in the field working with my father, or church with my mother, that yes, it does somehow reach the universal, you know, in topics. But it was my voice and my story and my authentic truth, as scary as it was to tell, that, um, that, I guess gave me, you, your book gave me permission to, to say it.

[00:31:39] Natalia Ilyin: Oh, I’m so glad that the book did something. That’s really nice of you. It’s such a goofy thing. You know, that book, writing for the Design Mind, you know, I, I wrote it because an editor called me up and she said, “I really like these, these tips, you know, that you have for your students, that you, you know, writing tips or whatever it is. Will you write a book about writing?” and I, you know, I, what do I know about writing, I’m a writer, you know, I didn’t know, and I’m a writing teacher, but I didn’t really think of myself as a person who would write a book about writing, you know what I mean? It’s the same thing. I mean, I didn’t want to be like, this is the universal way to write. It’s just that the way I was taught to write, um, allowed me to think of how to teach writing to designers. You are a designer. You think, a lot of what you think is in pictures and in textures and in the way things go together and maybe there should be another bookcase between those two bookcases and, you know, you think that way. And so how do you, how do you teach a designer to write? And how do you teach a designer to relax and write and be a person and a write? Which is everything against what you learned in design school, which is to think in the universals and not put yourself into it. This is the modernist approach. 

[00:32:57] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, that’s exactly right.

[00:32:58] Natalia Ilyin: So that really affects, doesn’t affect you well, when you, when you, when, when you’ve spent four years in design school, in an undergraduate design school that is, uh, basically modernist, which most of them still are. And you’ve learned a bunch of universal precepts about what is right and what is wrong. It is very hard to write because you have to throw all that out.

[00:33:24] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. And like you were saying about your professor and showing beyond the margins, and I say it in today’s world, I guess, with people’s Instagram and showing what’s on the other side of the camera or not that perfect, picture perfect image and that sort of thing, which was, it was really, uh, once I let go of that side of the pool, uh, it was a very freeing thing. It was, it felt so good then it just kind of continued to flow, I guess. Or gush, maybe, from a water hose situation. 

I think 

[00:34:00] Natalia Ilyin: it was more of a, more of a, like a fire hose. 

[00:34:03] Lorilee Rager: [Laughter]. It was. 

[00:34:04] Natalia Ilyin: When you let that, you let go, you let it go. And, and you know, that’s really, what you don’t want to do is be a writer and an editor at the same time of your own piece. So you need to let the fire hose just go. That’s the that’s, they invented editors so they say, “well, you know, this part of the gush is sort of boring and this part of the gush is really great”. Um, but don’t try to be your own. You can’t be like sitting there, gush, gush, gush, and then all of a sudden, like I cannot do this. This is wrong, you know. 

[00:34:33] Lorilee Rager: And edit, edit, write, right. 

[00:34:35] Natalia Ilyin: You can’t do both. Don’t edit yourself. Higher editors. 

[00:34:39] Lorilee Rager: Yes. You can always run spellcheck for that. But not run the grammar checker tools, not, not the actual Grammarly. But hire a human, and not your mother, to fix your commas. 

[00:34:56] Natalia Ilyin: Yeah. Do not give your writing to your boyfriend, to your parent, to your child, to your dog. Do not give it to these people, except for maybe the dog. 

[00:35:09] Lorilee Rager: Maybe. 

[00:35:10] Natalia Ilyin: Because you are asking them to read it and tell you how good you are, because you love them and they want, you want them to love you. It has nothing to do with the writing. So do yourself a favor, avoid the pain of doing that and get someone you kind of know who you know is really smart to read your writing. You know, you know, someone who you trust, who don’t know that, all that well, and you don’t care if they love you or not. I mean, you care if they care about you, but you know what I mean? It’s not like one of those fraught relationships. Just don’t let them. I don’t let my relatives and my sister’s this way too. We really don’t let our relatives read our writing til it’s printed. When it’s printed, they can’t do anything to it and they can’t affect us, right. So it’s sort of like, “here’s a book for you to read.” It’s different from, “can you read my one page of personal stuff?” So just don’t do that. Don’t do it. Although Emma I think would be an excellent editor. 

[00:36:10] Lorilee Rager: [Laughter]. Well, I know that Emma and I have the same grammar issues, but I think that, I think even with my thesis, once family, some family read it, they began to think of a different story or a different voice, or change, like, my truth.

[00:36:32] Natalia Ilyin: And then you, then you feel like, “oh my God, you know, they’re right,” right. This is what I always did, “they’re right, I was wrong, I won’t write it.” And that’s the easiest way to block yourself. 

[00:36:45] Lorilee Rager: That’s exactly what I was going to say. If I was writing that thesis and doing the research thinking at the end times, visually envisioning my sister reading it, I would have never written it, it would have never come out. I couldn’t have been dead honest with myself, which is also what your book says, that you must tell the truth, or you must be dead honest with yourself in your writing. 

[00:37:04] Natalia Ilyin: Yes. Which is the hardest thing. Cause you’re so used to hiding behind, it’s like that dance of the seven veils, you’re used to hiding all your selfness, right. Either family, friends, design, all the guys who told you you were stupid, you know, all that stuff. Women who told you you were stupid. Sadly, I’d never had any women tell me it was stupid, but I did have a couple of men tell me that. 

[00:37:27] Lorilee Rager: Same. 

[00:37:28] Natalia Ilyin: So it does, it does tend to, uh, make you prance around in the dance of the seven veils. But you have to let all that go and tell your truth because that’s the only valuable thing you’ve got. You don’t have anything else to give people. 

[00:37:48] Lorilee Rager: That’s right. 

[00:37:48] Natalia Ilyin: So, so you have to learn to be able to write it. 

[00:37:51] Lorilee Rager: And you can’t fake it. 

[00:37:52] Natalia Ilyin: You can’t fake it. And you know, we’ve all read many, many things that are big regurgitations of other people’s thoughts, you know. And you know, because when you start regurgitating other people’s thoughts, past a certain point that’s what language is, but when you start just grabbing chunks and chunks from other people and just words and ideas, where are you in the mix? Where is academe? You’re not pushing academia forward. You’re not pushing thought forward or in our case design criticism forward, you’re just regurgitating your, your dooming yourself to being mediocre. So, so it’s really important to, when you use a words or when you use ideas, to make sure they’re your own. 

[00:38:42] Lorilee Rager: Yes. 

[00:38:43] Natalia Ilyin: The ones that you really think are true. And all of this sounds so, um, I’m being very like castigating, but I get mad about stuff. You know, I get mad about when people who are, people are led down the garden path of thinking they have to write a certain way in academia and it just, it ruins their, their individual spirit. I don’t like that. 

[00:39:06] Lorilee Rager: It makes them scared and afraid. Um, which brings me to my next question or point is most designers I know are extremely terrified of conflict and have a little bit of a people pleasing, um, problem. We’ll just call it a problem. And, and that’s one of the things that. It’s also in your book. I’m sorry, I keep talking about your book, but it’s, it’s your 

[00:39:33] Natalia Ilyin: No, I love that you’re talking about, can you just like, say it again over and over. 

[00:39:37] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Writing for the Design Mind. Everyone, everyone needs a copy. But you had a whole section about argument, how writing is argument.

[00:39:46] Natalia Ilyin: Yes. Yeah. And when you hear that word 

[00:39:49] Lorilee Rager: your hackles go up, you get splotchy, all the emotions and tingley, bad, scary feelings. So tell me a little bit about your take on argument. Cause you made me understand that it was, it’s not evil.

[00:40:04] Natalia Ilyin: No. So, so, okay. So you’ve got a double whammy here, if you’ll pardon the expression. And you’re a designer. And so you’ve had a lot of social cues that have told you through the years how to get along with other people, and one of them is to mirror them. And when I say mirror, I mean just say back to them what they said to you and so they leave you alone. And, uh, notice that that’s very similar to what you do with clients.

[00:40:32] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely is. 

[00:40:34] Natalia Ilyin: Because designers are in the people pleasing business, that’s our business. We have to make it work for the client. So both of these things really are antithetical to what good writing is. So you have to get used to the idea of argument. So argument is not fighting with someone and hurt feelings and feeling bad and getting splotchy and your blood pressure going up and up. Argument is, think of the debate team. Argument is laying out a system of words that help people open their minds to your point of view. That’s all it is. So when we say argument in writing, what we mean is what are you trying to get across to your reader? What are you trying to get across? And so I define argument as everything you’re trying to get across. It’s not just, I win and you lose. I mean, sometimes it is that. 

[00:41:41] Lorilee Rager: Sure. 

[00:41:42] Natalia Ilyin: But it’s, you know, a poem can be an argument. It’s an argument for seeing the world in the way that the poet sees it for that brief encounter, right. So, so when you think of argument, don’t get panic, don’t panic. It just means that you have a reason for writing and you’re getting that reason across, you’re getting your idea across in a way that’s going to convince your reader that it wasn’t a waste of time to read your stuff. 

[00:42:12] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Another word, um, I think of in a, in, as a graphic designer working with clients is you’re persuading them. That sounds less scary.

[00:42:23] Natalia Ilyin: That’s a better word. 

[00:42:24] Lorilee Rager: But it is. 

[00:42:25] Natalia Ilyin: Yeah, it, persuading is, well, there is argument and there’s persuasive argument, you know. Now that I’m going to backtrack on myself, which is, my students hate this. They’re just like, “wait, I just took notes and now you’re changing your mind?” So argument and persuasion are closely linked, but they’re not always the same thing. In, in our case. And our cases as designers, they are, they’re very closely linked. 

[00:42:50] Lorilee Rager: It, it feels better when I’m thinking about coming up with my defense or reasoning, uh, of, of what the idea is I’m trying to sell. 

[00:43:01] Natalia Ilyin: Defense is a nice word too. 

[00:43:03] Lorilee Rager: Right. Now we sound like lawyers, which we are not. 

[00:43:05] Natalia Ilyin: No way. 

[00:43:08] Lorilee Rager: No way. 

[00:43:09] Natalia Ilyin: No, but that’s another word you run into. 

[00:43:12] Lorilee Rager: Those are just scary words that I don’t think designers are taught to comfortably communicate when they’re trying to show their work, whether it’s in a critique in the classroom or in front of a board of the bank or, 

[00:43:28] Natalia Ilyin: Oh yeah, it’s really, I hate to break it to you, but when you’re involved in a critique and more, more, really more so when you’re involved with a client and you’re showing, you know, those three things that you’re going to convince them to do one of those things with, that really is a defense. So defense is also that scary word. And it’s what word, people who, they’re going to do a thesis or a, or a PhD, uh, run right into, because especially PhD really has a true defense of the ideas that are in the, in the work. Uh, the MFA, uh, to a certain degree, but, uh, not, uh, not at the level that a PhD has. So you hear people talking about their defense and it’s just terrifying. But all that is, is that they’re setting up the reasons why they did what. And they have to be convincing about it. That’s all that is. And it’s the same with your clients. So you have all these skills from design, but we just call them different words, but they’re all the same skills. They’re, they’re convincing people to like the work you’ve done and the reasons that they should adopt it. So it’s the same thing. 

[00:44:40] Lorilee Rager: It is. That’s exactly. Beautifully said, beautifully said. 

[00:44:45] Natalia Ilyin: Oh, that’s what I’m working on. I’m working on it. 

[00:44:47] Lorilee Rager: You’re doing very, very well. Very good. Well, um, we’ll just wrap up with the end. And as sad as I am to see you go, but we will, we’ll definitely have you back. But the end, last question is what is one tool you would leave an our Ground and Gratitude toolbox for others? Any kind of, like, anchor thought that maybe gives you gratitude, or it could also be a flower, it could be a smell of oil or something that maybe helps center you maybe before you write, or maybe it’s a cup of tea. What’s your favorite tea? 

[00:45:26] Natalia Ilyin: What’s my favorite tea?

[00:45:27] Lorilee Rager: Today.

[00:45:27] Natalia Ilyin: I don’t have a favorite tea. 

[00:45:29] Lorilee Rager: I was going to say it could change. 

[00:45:32] Natalia Ilyin: Um, a tool for your toolbox. I think that what I would do is suggest to your readers, and this is hokey, but hey, let’s be hokey because hokey works. 

[00:45:43] Lorilee Rager: Yes it does. Woo woo. We go woo woo sometimes. 

[00:45:45] Natalia Ilyin: It does. Woo woo. And I would say, go stand in front of your bathroom mirror. Look at your bathroom mirror and say, “I trust you, write what you want” and then go do it. 

[00:45:59] Lorilee Rager: That’s really great. That’s really great. So look yourself in the eye, which you actually rarely do, and one of the things that I say is “I got you.” 

[00:46:07] Natalia Ilyin: Oh, that’s good. I got you. 

[00:46:09] Lorilee Rager: And, so I trust you is fantastic. It’s a fantastic tool for the toolbox. 

[00:46:14] Natalia Ilyin: Oh good. I’m glad it fits in the toolbox because I was worried it was going to be too little for the toolbox. 

[00:46:19] Lorilee Rager: No. There’s no, we’re no judgment to the size of the tool. 

[00:46:22] Natalia Ilyin: Does the toolbox change size? 

[00:46:25] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Absolutely. 

[00:46:27] Natalia Ilyin: It’s a magic toolbox. 

[00:46:28] Lorilee Rager: But it could also be small enough for your pocket, if you need to take it with you on a trip.

[00:46:32] Natalia Ilyin: Well, that’s good to know. And will you get, will, uh, the security like pull you over? Cause you have a toolbox in your pocket. 

[00:46:38] Lorilee Rager: No, it’s TSA approved. 

[00:46:39] Natalia Ilyin: Oh, excellent. Okay, good. I’m glad. 

[00:46:41] Lorilee Rager: It’s well-designed, it’s a well designed toolbox. 

[00:46:43] Natalia Ilyin: I need this. I can tell it. I can sort of see it already. Oh, Lorilee, this has been so lovely to visit with you and hope that I’ll be able to visit with you more in coming months and talk about, you know, the important stuff rather than all the fluff.

[00:46:58] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:46:58] Natalia Ilyin: Yeah. 

[00:46:59] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely. This was beautiful. This was so great. Thank you so much. 

[00:47:04] Natalia Ilyin: Oh, thank you.

[00:47:11] Lorilee Rager: Thanks again to Natalia for joining me and helping us all learn a little bit more about writing, routines, and the importance of rituals. Thank you for tuning into Ground and Gratitude. You can find more information about the show, about what we talked about today, some of my writing, even the morning pages that we talked about, and so much more on GroundAndGratitude.com. So check us out there. Join me next time for more honest conversations exploring what it means to truly live a life grounded in gratitude. 

Ground and Gratitude is produced by Kelly Drake and AO McClain LLC, the dream team.