5.08.2017

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.

4.21.2017

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.

4.08.2017


Years ago, while attending a writing retreat, the great kidlit author Kirby Larson mentioned a group of teachers who had taken the leap into the blogosphere and were writing posts about books and the reading life. Teachers talking about titles for children and teens? I scribbled the name of the group--and the blog--in my notebook. I had to read what they were writing.

And I did. And I still do. And I always will.

If you haven't heard of the Nerdy Book Club, give yourself time to check out their site or Twitter feed. It's fun. It's a good resource. It uplifts. It gets serious. It gives out awards. It promotes. It teaches. In the end, it is a club, and today, it features my first club post:


This post is inspired by my family's influence on my childhood experience with reading.

For instance, my mom, who drove endless cycles, library to house and back again. Who helped carry piles of books and kept track of return dates. Who, wisely, set us free early to walk, skateboard, or bike ride to Cedar Roe Library and be responsible for our own library card.

Or my dad, who made sure we had a sturdy, family dictionary and a cohesive encyclopedia set. Who read the paper every day and made me curious about biographies.

Or my sisters. My oldest read always and often and never gave a second thought to closing herself into her room to disappear into a book, which gave me permission to escape too. My sister closest in age read edgy coming of age books, and in secret agreement, let me know where they were stored so I could read them myself. My sister in-between was the one who joined my reading life, and later, allowed me to join hers.

I write about this sister in the Nerdy Book Club post, a tale of paying it forward, reading up, and reading out. Meaning, reading outside our comfort zone. It's fantastic for kids, but in this world, it's imperative for adults. Get to know someone, something, some place that you don't know in your everyday life. And once you do, share the material. Because, it's true...

Reading could change the world.

4.03.2017

There’s this quote by George Eliot:


It is never too late to be what you might have been.


It’s a favorite of mine, but almost every time I recite it to someone, they scoff. Maybe that reaction is due to the way we view time. Have we made it work for us or do we see it passing uncontrollably with few opportunities to harness it in our favor?

Or maybe the quote reminds us of the moment we caught a glimpse of our desired outcome, but turned away, whether on purpose, frightened by the enormity and power of it, or because we were distracted by a shiny something, a too-good-to-be-true promise, a call to duty.

Or maybe we simply found an easier way, a safe and comfortable way. A way that didn’t feel like it’d swallow us whole.

For me, the quote implies a lot. Like, there’s unknown magic along the road to the destination. Like, I have the map, I routed my path, and I know where I want to end up, but the very real, feet pounding out the trail journey is long and will change me. To the Might’ve Been Me. The Supposed To Be Me.

For me, the quote also almost-demands I start again, over and over and over if need be, to find that enormous and powerful idea of who I could be—each day, every day, as long as I live—and when I catch sight of that person, advance toward her. Determined, insistent, unwavering.

Each of its implications and demands presents an important challenge for Creatives confronting aging for the first time. Go off map? Leave the plotted route? That was fine back then, but now I’m too old to take risks. I’m too wise to chase magic. Following whims? I could bounce back when I was younger, but now it’s irresponsible. And I don’t have time. I mean, I really don’t have time. One car needs new tires. One needs a tune-up. The bathrooms need to be cleaned. And there are the three appointments today and then tomorrow that guy is here to do that thing and Thursday I’m helping so-and-so with such-and-such and, well, the calendar is jam-packed. And the thing I need is not Might’ve Been Me, but Should Be Me, who has a steady, stable job that provides security.

Then I turn the corner. Click on a link. Meet someone new. Have an idea. Write or make something great.

I think, Maybe writing and art don’t have to be tossed aside as pastimes after all.

I think, Six more months. I’ll give it six more months.

I think, I’ll micro-focus with tunnel vision dedication. Because…

It’s never too late to be what I might’ve been.

Shit.

2.19.2017

sketchbook philosophy

While some seek to
make our world
less unified and diverse,
I'll imagine cities 
packed with colorful harmony.


2.16.2017

I’ve been away. Away from writing. Arting. Any type of routine. And in this time away, the world’s troubles have multiplied and become more complex. As has my distress. So, what happens when you’re mad as hell, don’t want to keep quiet, but also long for peace and normalcy? I ask myself this question almost daily, but no answer has bubbled to the surface. Instead, new questions arise.

What do I do while I wait for the answer? Do I spout off, act up, make good trouble?

Or do I settle down and get on with my life, hoping for the best when it comes to the injustice and inequality I see?

For me, it’s impossible to look the other way, but that impossibility isn’t because I’m so brave or wise. It’s just written somewhere in my genetic and spiritual code.

Face the problem. Call out bad behavior. Push for fairness. Push more when challenged. In fact, push until they surrender to goodness. Push. Push. Push.

I’ve been like this since I was a kid, and at times, the drive to act feels burdensome. Heavy. Unwelcome. Especially when there are a million other things that need my attention. Especially when making noise feels scary and unpopular. Maybe this is why lately I find myself waffling between the desire to distance myself from those who choose to look the other way and the desire to join them. Between wanting to end relationships because of contrasting ideology and wanting to accept others’ right to an opposing opinion or disinterest in the current state of culture and politics.

One thing I know for sure, I’m not the kind of person who wants to try to persuade people to my side. At least not anymore. I probably discovered this a year or so ago and it’s tied closely to the fact that I’m an overgiver. The thing is, after years upon years of offering help, feedback, or deeds to folks who didn’t appreciate it, I noticed how physically weary and emotionally spent I felt when I delivered to a closed door. It’s the same thing with concepts and ideas. People either get it or don’t. Either care or don’t. Still, up until last month, the teacher in me continued reaching out to friends and family, hoping to pass along knowledge and form coalitions and huddles to fight the good, progressive fight. Was I surprised that my calls to action were met with a silent majority? A little, but it's okay. I don’t have power over what others count as worthy or true, but they also don’t have power over what I deem important. That doesn’t stop me from feeling sad, though, and when I see large meet-ups broadcast by Women’s March, Indivisible, and Swing Left a pang of jealousy strikes me. I’d enjoy it very much if the people already in my life and my community had the same energy I had to build a progressive future.

As a writer and artist, much of my time is spent on my own, sorting through ideas. I work in a quiet, solitary place. I'm also always alone when I push send on a submission. I'm not the first to feel lonesome in my craft. And I think another part of my genetic and spiritual make-up is to be sturdy enough to handle all of this creative aloneness. But in a world gone topsy-turvy, I'll admit: this Creative could use a tribe.

Lucky for me a couple of handfuls of people in my world are like-minded, and of those, a few have joined me in creating a fuss. I’m quite grateful to these women. And today, amid a whirling twister of confusion, chaos, and probable corruption at the White House and within the Republican party, it felt critical to thank them and anyone out there who’s part of a small group or is completing their day-to-day activism alone. I honor you, in your slight gatherings and individual presence, for showing up, not keeping quiet. For refusing to deny that persistent voice inside.

“There are others like you," it says. "And across time and space, you create a massive entity. So push on. In the name of equity and dignity for all, push on.”

1.28.2017

in this crazy, new order
we could all use some true faith
in good & humanity.
things will work out.
until then, dance a little.


1.08.2017

rainbows: everywhere

rainbow of random items
found within twenty feet of my front door

1.07.2017

It's Jackson Browne. It's Clarence Clemons. C'mon, get up and dance.