hanging onto creativity in five easy steps

Life can really eff up our best laid creative plans. Whether it's day-to-day distractions or a slight midweek delay or months of serious interruption, creativity may be the first thing an artist chucks when Life Stuff needs attention.

Makes sense. Life Stuff tends to bring stress along for the ride and stress is the great frazzler. The mighty brain muddler. The genuine maker of tired. The birth place of overwhelm. Which, over the past twenty four months, has been my natural state of existence.

My Life Stuff included projects I took on willingly and life events that, surprise, cycled into my sphere like blazing comets. Some months I found myself with a thousand tasks of varying sizes, and though I'm keen on organization and order, there've been moments when I really struggled to manage large and small, now and later, and important and dire, because sometimes, well, everything felt dire.

In the end, I'm semi-shocked to be coming through this period in okay shape. Well, many days I'm in okay shape. Which is mostly due to a sense of humor that shows up in the nick to time. Still, there are days I wonder how, in the whirling, swirling Life Stuff solar system, I'll make it to bedtime without being cast off into the deep space of exhaustion or explode from spinning overload.

This, by the way, comes up for most of the writers and artists I know. At gatherings or meetings with newbies, they ask those who've been at it awhile, "How do you manage your time? How do fit writing and art into a normal, busy life? How do you do it all?"

Ah. The question of doing it all. In the good old days, I could whip a mountain of Life Stuff into shape in no time. I had the drive and energy to divide large, small, now, and later tasks with such speed and devotion that every project got done before it even mattered where it fell on the spectrum of importance. But now, in the good new days? Well, Life Stuff comes more frequently, at an erratic pace, and when everything is happening at once, Life Stuff begins to feel life altering.

"Do it now, immediately, this minute, or face horrendous consequences," Life Stuff hollers.

So, what happens when a Creative decides they can't do everything, be everywhere, and help everyone? What happens when a Creative decides something has to give? In observing myself and artist friends, I've noted how often we accept the enormity of Life Stuff and dive in, letting go of creative projects, deeming them one-off, or setting aside creative ideas, labeling them can-wait. And sadly, our instinct is to put the creative time we love, honor, and desire in a dark corner and try to forget it exists.

Well, I'm here to say, "No more."

Now, I'm not just anyone saying, No more. I'm not just some random busy person making a bold, pushy declaration. I have qualifications. Seriously. In the last two years, I've experienced handfuls of Life Stuff situations listed on the healthcare industry's top stressors lists. And some of these things I experienced twice. Seriously. So, I'm speaking from experience when I say giving up craft seems like the logical choice. In fact, I'm partially writing this post as a way to embed this lesson into my subconscious. There is some good news, though.

If you happen to be the kind of Creative who, in the midst of a shitstorm, grieves the loss of your creative life, your brain is already set up to know that ignoring the creative drive is not the solution. Your brain won't see it as taking something off the table. It'll see it as struggle. More burden. It'll keep reminding you how good it feels to create. In this way, the better thing to do is keep one's imagination-daydream-creative muscle as the wellness thread that weaves through quiet, tiny minutes and large, unexpected blocks of time. But how do we do it? How do we hang onto creativity no matter what?

Hanging onto Creativity in Five Easy Steps

1. Buy or borrow noise-cancelling headphones and set up a creative safe zone.

When several big Life Stuffs (moving, a home renovation, assisting with caregiving for a family member, my healthcare) came up my world, I could literally watch time slipping away from me. Not-so-little tasks crop up during times like these and loads of unknowns make for emotional upheaval. But with noise-cancelling headphones and a creative safe zone, be it a room, a table, or a chair, a person can disappear into a sketchpad, a lump of clay, or laptop and capture anywhere from few minutes to several hours of private, uninterrupted create-something time. With this step, a Creative must make it the rule, not the exception, to go straight to headphones-and-safe-zone when time opens up. Ignore everything and everyone. Be disciplined. Be ruthless. And have all your materials at the ready. This is (finally) your time. This step applies to all Creatives, whether you garden, woodwork, cook, or dance. Have your space, supplies, and headphones waiting for you. And remember: it's okay to shut the world out in order to open the doors within.

2. Make piles and make a choice.

pile of scrap wood, waiting
Some like disarray. Others won't tolerate it. Where do you fall on this organizational scale? If you've been researching, brainstorming, and gathering inspirational items on several creative projects when Life Stuff robs you of time, you'll want to take an hour to give everything a once-over. Why? For peace and serenity, that's why. Because it will happen. You will be in the middle of a Life Stuff task and wonder, What happened to that sketch? Those sentences? I jotted that important information on a napkin. Or did I write it on that page I tore from the magazine? Where is it?

stack of unfinished paintings, waiting
For neatniks and clutter-tolerant Creatives alike, the first to-do is the same: make one pile for each creative project. Those who like it tidy, put the piles away. In a drawer, a cabinet, under the bed. Keep only a few piles in reach. Ones you'd love to haul to the creative safe zone. On the flip side, if seeing what's waiting for you keeps your spirits up, just lay the piles around wherever you normally do. Pile-making is a twist on the Twyla Tharp method. For her, each new choreography project got its own file box, and   though those piled up, things felt sorted while also reminding her of an exciting future. As a side-note: in crazy-busy times, you might surprise yourself and switch organizational sides, or like me, become both orderly and disordered. Just remember: when things aren't so hectic, you'll get back on track. For the moment, piles will do for knowing what's where.

3. Keep a notepad in your hip pocket.

Writers and artists of all kinds are known for always carrying something to write with and on. After all, ideas arrive in snips and snaps, morning, noon, and night. In the case of managing Life Stuff and creativity, the notepad will also be the keeper of small, distracting to-dos and don't-forgets.

Call this gal. Email that guy. Return the pants. Water the ficus. Buy oregano.

If you must, type into the notepad on your phone. But remember: there's something about putting pen to paper and the action of writing for clearing the gobblety-gook from the mind. There's something about the pressure of that notepad in your pocket that tells you you're full of amazing, artistic ideas.

4. Make a take-it-with-you creative kit.

If it's happened once, it's happened a million times. Waiting. And most of Life's Stuff seems to come with a line. For even the most hurried or wiped out Creative, having something to do while we wait can make the mental difference in viewing time as our friend versus our enemy. So, pack a small kit of items that let you switch over to right-brain thinking.

Maybe it's something new: a fabric swatch in an embroidery hoop and needle and thread. Maybe it's the old standby of color pencils and a journal. Or maybe the kit is full of straight up fun, like comic books, silly putty, and a loop of string for making Cat's Cradle or Jacob's Ladder. Whatever you make and take, don't push yourself to use the kit if you need waiting periods to zone out. Because remember: daydreaming works too. It soothes. It brings joy. It feeds the creative brain.

5. Recruit an accountability partner.

Oh, golly. I know. This sounds so self-helpy. But listen, do you want to weather your Life Stuff, only to return to your creative life and have to start at square one? This truly is a thing. Where health, family, job, finances, friends, responsibilities overwhelm us to the point that when we return to the work of creating something, we can't possibly remember where we left off. Or we've changed and can't do it the way we did before. If this happens often enough, a really lovely, must-be creation will never be complete. I'm talking about that creation that'll tear your heart out if it's not finished. The creation you feel you must show the world so you can be you. So, if you have that creation or several potential creations like it, I'll say this...

It's better to advance a project, even if with tip-toey, baby steps, than keep starting over. And after a few check-ins, having a trusted accountability partner asking you what forward-motion you accomplished that week will suddenly feel imperative. You'll feel cared for and also responsible for yourself and your must-be creation. Which is important when Life Stuff threatens to swallow you whole. I mean, remember: We aren't our Life Stuff. We are what we create.

Bonus Step: Eat, sleep, move, and emote at your optimal pace.

So obvious, I know, but nothing, and I mean nothing, will ruin creative energy like depletion. When Life Stuff arrives, first take a breath and commit to staying wholly healthy. Task numero dos? Fill the refrigerator and pantry with energy-giving snack and meal options. If you're totally stressed, ask a friend or family member to run to the grocery for you.

With sleep, it's never, ever wise to skimp. Not even to exercise. Sleep studies prove sleeping is better than exercise for well being. And if you can't sleep, try a nightly ritual of deep breathing, low lighting, and soft, spa music 30 minutes before bed.

As for movement (and notice I didn't say exercise), it's crucial, but not complicated. If you have an exercise routine you adore, don't skip it, but there are alternatives. Park farther away and walk. Ride your bike around the block for five minutes. Dance wildly in the living room while sipping a cocktail. And stretch, stretch, stretch. The body and your emotions. If you need to cry, cry. If you're angry and want to punch a pillow, go for it. When the giggles hit, belly laugh your ass off. Holding emotion in or neglecting basic needs during Life Stress will create stagnation, frustration, and hyperventilation, and in the end, we must remember: we not only deserve to self-nurture, we can't be there for others or our creative lives without it.


Now on Exhibit:
Arizona in Layers
April 21 through May 14

I'm pleased to announce long-time local artisan shop MADE Art Boutique in Roosevelt Row Arts District has accepted one of my mixed media pieces for display & sale.

This painting puts up for show my love of collage. Layering under, over, & around Arizona's state shape, I used vintage fabric & pattern paper, upcycled art & book paper, embroidery, hand-made stamps, graphite pencil, glaze medium, & a smidge of acrylics all in an effort to portray the beauty I see in the desert, even in its driest periods. A washed out sky, shades of dusty earth, a pop from wildflowers, who insist on being here.

Click links here if you'd like to check out MADE Art Boutique or Roosevelt Row Arts District. Tonight happens to be Third Friday, a more arts focused night than First Friday, & galleries in the area will be holding special exhibits. But visiting the area anytime is worth the trip downtown. MADE is open Mon-Sat 11am-7pm & Sun 11am-4pm.