Tag: Creativity

5Jun

Dosing

I’m fighting it hard today, the smothering despair simultaneously manufactured and feared by my own mind. Yesterday, I couldn’t fight. With the slow approach of rain, my inner world drained of color, and I only knew how to mimic the motions of the living… vocalize polite response, bring fork to mouth, place one foot in front of the other. This morning, the sun rose again, a diluted but obvious yellow, and I’m breathing instinctually again—a mercy, this. But what if tomorrow dawns gray again? What if the next wave of this infernal springtime virus is already gathering speed? There are so many unknown days ahead, and I’ve rarely felt so utterly tapped out of resources.

We’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming around here lately, sketching out possible paths down which to channel our energy. This freedom to chart our own course is one of the luxuries we have as a freelancing family (other “luxuries” include paying a million percent in self-employment taxes, just in case you were toying with jealousy), but it also scares me into an off-kilter pendulum swing between hope and despondence. On the hopeful upswing, I start to catch some of my husband’s optimism and see the intersection between creativity and success. I fill notebook pages with ideas that energize me. I put days on end into researching how I can best use this word-besotted brain of mine to benefit both the world and our bank account.

The downswing seems inevitable though. At some point in my reading, I suddenly start to see others’ successes as intimidation rather than inspiration. It occurs to me that everything worth writing has already been written and that pursuing any of my projects would be like trying to nose my way into an already-overcrowded party. My old friends Self-Doubt and Shame see their opportunity here and jump in to convince me that not only do I have nothing special to offer the world, I’m a burden to it. Dead weight. Dan offers to make me an iced coffee, and I have a minor crisis because what have I ever done that makes me worthy of a coffee? That’s at least ten cents in ingredients right there, not to mention preparation time, and what about the labor that went into picking the coffee beans, what about the sun or rain or slow seasonal whisperings that coaxed them into growth? What about the electricity it takes to freeze the ice? How can Dead Weight Me warrant even a single drop?

This kind of thought degeneration would be comical if it weren’t so devastating to live through. I would never in a million years tell a fellow stay-at-home mom that she didn’t deserve the roof over her head just because she wasn’t bringing in as much income as her husband. I would never tell her that her significance and value were tied to her career, much less that only a self-made, wholly unique, preferably award-winning career would count. I would never expect her to view a cup of coffee as unjustified.

Instead, I would bust out the metaphorical pompoms and deliver one of my favorite Oscar Wilde quotes with a few high kicks and some glitter paint: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” I would assure her that her interests and ideas do matter and that, unless her life goal is plagiarism, she absolutely does have something unique to offer the world. The way she talks, creates, and thinks are a gift—unless, of course, the way she thinks leads to a biannual spiral of self-loathing, in which case she really might want to get that checked out.

I hold myself to a different standard than I hold anyone else though, and in my own cramped construct, sick days are failure, brain fog is failure, clutter is failure, mood swings are failure. It’s all failure, all the time on the mental channel that’s been blaring on and off for the last few weeks, and oh lord, what I wouldn’t give for silence. I’m in honest-to-goodness awe of those of you who know how to quiet your minds; I only get about five seconds in to a meditation exercise before my failure alarm starts screeching about how laughably bad I am at achieving inner peace, and then a second alarm joins in to berate me for letting that first one disrupt my serenity, and by the thirty second mark, I can’t hear myself think a single distinguishable thought.

If you’re nodding your head in commiseration right now… I’m so sorry. I have nothing in the form of advice and only the faintest inklings of how to steady my own incomprehensible self against the pendulum. So far, I’ve ruled out chewing tobacco and daytime TV, but only just. In fact, I only have one idea right now that strikes a chord with both mind and heart, and it’s this: over on Instagram and Twitter, I’m going to revive my outdated experiment in capturing a #dailydoseofbeauty. Snapping pictures with my phone is the kind of meditation I can rock right now, and my hope is that even this fragmented focus on gratitude and grace will grow into something larger than myself with its own steady pulse of joy, something that can slip me silent past the alarms and the fight and back into this beautiful land of the living where I belong.

Starting… now:

A daily dose of beauty

Opening our front door is so sweet this time of year. #dailydoseofbeauty

~~~

What do you think? Would you care to join me? (Please do!)

18May

Meevaluation

The last couple of days were for holding my breath, playing the undercover researcher to my own life, and sometimes just hiding under the blankets for an hour or, um… four. Some days are just this way, and it’s probably due to a combination of late nights and early mornings and too much not enough coffee and hormones and the weather and any number of swiftly colliding circumstances, but in the murk of it, all I can reason is that I have finally, irrevocably failed at existence. (People who are not me would call it a bad day, shrug, and move on. To those people, I ask—Where is your commitment to suffering? I mean, really.)

The funk had been creeping up on me for a while—see here, here, here, aaaaand here—and my husband and I both agree that it’s time for some lifestyle reevaluation. The fact that we missed an episode of Sherlock to talk through this just goes to show how badly we need a change. More specifically, how badly I need a change. This year so far has looked nothing like I thought it would; my Ready, Set, Write! expectations were strangled by a months-long situation I couldn’t share about here, and I’ve been getting up each morning at the last possible minute without a glimmer of creative purpose.

Some mornings once the coffee is stirring my veins back to life, blog entries land decisively on my heart to be typed out in a heady glow. This compulsion to write is why I started blogging in the first place. It’s one of my favorite processes in all the world. But many other mornings, far too many, I stare at my computer screen trying to force sentences out of a thick silence and spiraling by the minute toward self-disgust. If I can’t conjure up the inspiration for a mere blog entry each day, how can I consider myself a blogger? And if I can’t hack it as a blogger, how can I even hope for the infinitely vaguer and cooler title of writer?

Here’s where the lifestyle reevaluation comes in. See, I have an idea of what is required of a successful blogger—a personal brand, dedicated networking, and frequent content that manages to be both familiar and engaging—and I chafe against all three points. I have no agenda for my blogging, and I honestly feel claustrophobic at the thought of limiting myself to one theme or niche. I’m just me, folks, and I write because I can’t not write, and I share that writing here because I can’t not share it. This blog is my community. However, I don’t think it was ever meant to be my career. All those mornings spent glaring at a blank “New Post” page should have clued me in long before now. This space here is a place for inspiration and outlet, an aviary for my thoughts, a personal lounge for kicking back and drinking in beauty. It’s not my nine to five.

Which means it’s high time I stop letting misdirected stress over branding and networking and commenting and posting schedules keep me from asking myself what projects I’m truly meant to pour my energy into for the second half of this year. Ergo, I’m going to be taking some much-needed time to figure myself out, starting in approximately eleven minutes when I hit the running trail and the horrible, agonizing pain of exercise stabs my stress level to death. I’m not abandoning this blog, never fear, but posting might be sparser than usual while I get reacquainted with me. Either that, or this space will soon be overrun with blurry snapshots of my navel and esoteric questions about the meaning of life. Either way, you’ve been warned.

~~~

How do you go about lifestyle reevaluations? Do you have any tips for ditching unnecessary stress and honing in on a direction that will bounce me out of bed with the sunrise? (Drink recommendations totally count.)

23Apr

Rebel Rebel

Some weeks, ideas pile up against each other like enthusiastic puppies in their haste to get out. Other weeks, their ebb seems devastatingly final. I may never really come to terms with this cyclic nature of creativity, this manic-depressive supply of words. The puppy weeks are amazing, of course. I am able! My life has meaning! I will never run out of things worth saying! But then the next week swoops in like a Dementor and I am incapable and my life is meaningless and I never had anything worth saying in the first place and I should probably just go eat some worms. Extra slimy ones.

I sometimes blame the dry spell on my muse’s jetting off to the tropics and shrug it off, but more often, I accept the sense of inadequacy my mind presses on me as being the truest truth. I learned this resignation a long time ago from a culture that believed in beating out children’s wills, and as far as I’ve removed myself from that context, its repercussions still catch me off guard. I have big ideas but very little confidence, plenty of frustration without any fight, and a perspective that rides on the weather. I’d classify this brain of mine up there with stink badgers in terms of affability.

So you should know that this, just showing up to the page with reluctant fingers and worms on my breath, is counted unto me as the rebellion I never had the courage to stage. Even though I feel certain right now that my artistic life is meaningless, over, etc., etc., I am ditching the appropriate misery in favor of a totally punk determination to blog (Anti-establishmentarianism FTW!) and finding out that insubordination is just the kind of thing that can change the weather.

(Lapis lazuli nails help too.)

15Mar

For Blunderbuss Weeks

“I blundered into creativity as blindly as any child learning to walk and see. I learned to let my senses and my Past tell me all that was somehow true.”
~ Ray Bradbury, from the introduction to Dandelion Wine

~~~

It’s been a blundering sort of week on the creative front. I’m wrapping up one project and halfway through another, and blank lines are morphing into monsters before my eyes. It’s hard to recognize my love of writing on a week when every other word comes out kicking and screaming. (Or maybe my children are the ones kicking and screaming? Everything sort of blurs into chaos when one’s husband has been away on business for two consecutive weeks.)

It’s hard for me to do this, to care deeply for my work while taking all the little demands and frustrations of life in stride. I want to WRITE, damn it!, and devour novels and watch TED talks and do yoga to meditations by Anne Lamott and immerse myself fully in the artist’s life… but every few minutes, it’s supper time again, and we have no instant food in the house (curses on nutritional menu planning), and my husband is three countries away, and the girls are murdering each other in the next room, and the house is a natural disaster in and of itself even though I just finished cleaning it, and I’m shaking with what I can only assume is hunger which makes no sense because I could swear that we in this house eat without ceasing, and once we do manage to scrounge something edible into our mouths, it will be time for the hour of brutal physical labor known as Putting The Girls To Bed, and afterwards I will be too tired to remember that I, too, need sleep, and I will stay up far too late writing emails and worrying about everything I can get my mind on, and the entire next morning will be doomed to a kind of zombie torture experience.

(I blame the horrifying length of that sentence on just having proofread a business plan. My right brain needed to stretch.)

Here’s what helps, both for my own future reference and for anyone else chafing under the interruptions of Real Life:

Permission to leave the dishes in the sink.
Forgiveness for missing the deadline.
An extra hour on the alarm.
A third coffee. With cream.

When it feels like life is pulling at me from all directions, the best thing I know to do is to cut myself some slack. Grace has a filter-down effect, you see, and the girls are much less likely to wring each other’s necks when their mother isn’t wringing her own. Along with the domestic murder rate, wailing and gnashing of teeth drop significantly when we have a package of possibly-fish sticks in the freezer. And more often than not, when I remember to let creativity down off its pedestal, it has a way of blundering straight into truth.

15Feb

Branded Flibbertigibbet

I recently started reading a blog that is so good, so good, that every single post has me either laughing or crying. Often both. (It’s hard to choose a favorite, but this post has my heart firmly entwined around its little finger.) Glennon writes with such humor and candor and ridiculous grace that my day is always better for reading her, but one thing in particular has stuck with me. She mentions how storytelling and shamelessness are her strengths, the gifts that fuel her unique purposes in life. To this, I say Rock on, sister! with accompanying fist-pumps.

To myself, however, I say something less celebratory like Huh. and finger the edges of my own uncertainty over the future. The decision to leave my job this year was hard-won, but it only feels like the lifting of my foot before choosing in which direction to step. Questions, doubts, worries, and more questions rise in quick succession these days, and I kick myself under the desk for consistently accomplishing less now that I have more time at my disposal.

My sense of social guilt has nagged at me for years now about not having a “brand,” a platform, a niche, a signature—whatever word best conveys direction and potential. Now, it’s morphing from unfocused guilt to true, urgent need as I look out over this blank-page year and ask, God, what the hell am I supposed to do with this?

I need to write like I need to breathe; that much is clear. It’s also clear that I’m not so much a storyteller as I am a thought painter, watching concepts take color and shape beneath my fingers. My brain-waves on any given day might pull toward mothering or spirituality or travel or the creative life or brownies; in fact, if I find myself slipping into a topic rut, I instinctively stop writing. I have a wild suspicion that if I rehash old material, my blog and everyone reading it will lapse into comatose boredom.

But isn’t that what a brand essentially is? The same lines of thought tackled from a variety of angles? A stamp of consistency that draws people with similar interests to comment and contribute and build a like-minded community? That’s just it—I don’t think I’ve been exactly the same person for any two days of my entire life. In the constant struggle and exhilaration of change, it’s hard enough to keep tabs on who I am without also nailing down what I’m about. Besides brownies, I mean.

I’m embarrassed to be outing myself as a lifelong flibbertigibbet, which just goes to show that I do not share Glennon’s gift of shamelessness. It could be that this state of flux is my strength, but I have a hard time seeing how something so vague and unwieldy can result in the kind of direction that gets someone up before dawn.

I’m not fishing for insta-answers here, though your speculations and stories are absolutely welcome. I’m simply painting my thoughts out as wide strokes on a blurred background in hopes that in the process, I’ll catch a glimpse of my bigger picture.

12Jan

Choose Your Own Dust Storm

2012 for our family has whirled in like a dust storm. For all my hope that we would receive some sort of cosmic prize package for making it through 2011 intact, we’re still in the gritty thick of uncertainty. The positive side is that there’s no better time to evaluate core values than when nothing else is guaranteed. The less positive side is that we’ve simply had no time for self-evaluation.

Here’s a snack-sized recap of the past three weeks: We’ve traveled over 8,500 miles, mostly by car. We’ve celebrated a holiday each with Dan’s whole family and with mine, and we wish we could have spent more time with both. We’ve seen dear friends and missed getting to see others. We’ve made our traditional dash  to Urgent Care and added Natalie’s broken arm X-rays to our vacation album. We’ve procured a new driver’s license, a new passport, and one precious visa, and we’ve woken up on Italian time for many mornings in an ongoing attempt to get the other.

We still have a little bit of buffer time here in the States, but it’s not certain that I’ll be able to return home when Dan and the girls do. This week has been a unique exercise in balancing anxiety with trust that all will turn out for the best. Not to say that I’ve successfully gone all Zen Master, but I’m grateful for the perspective that comes with derailed plans, and I’m glad to finally have a bit of time today to take stock of what I’m bringing to the new year.

I don’t have any word or mantra picked out for 2012, and I haven’t dared yet to think of goals beyond the immediate future. However, the day that my Kickstarter project ended, one possible version of this year misted out of sight and another began to come into focus. It’s hard to fill in the details without even knowing which country I’ll be in come February, but I’m discovering just how important flexibility is on my list of guiding values. This year, I need to have space on my margins, the grace to enjoy life through its unpredictability instead of rushing from one source of resentment to the next.

It’s also on my heart to embody generosity this year, not so much with finances as with my time and attention (though being able to give more in a traditional sense would be great too). Of course, this will require me to reclaim my time and attention so that I can give them to the things that matter, and some heavy decisions are involved.

Unfortunately, there’s no PA system booming down from heaven to tell me what I should do this year. This is more like a choose-your-own-adventure novel with further direction on hold until I pick a page. I’ve never cared for those books, but there’s something to be said for being an active participant in your own story, isn’t there? Plus, I have a pretty good idea of the values I want to help guide my decisions this year:

flexibility

generosity

authenticity

beauty

courage

…and this—creativity, community, intention, art, whatever name writing takes on any given day.

I’ll keep you posted as the dust begins to settle.

4Nov

Galaxy-Bound

Sometimes I just need to slip outside in the deep breath between day and night.

Dusk is scuttling across a fickle moon, and the wind is a blue-gray cat; I feel her prowling in my bones. The arched conifer that always makes me think of “Starry Night” dances in silhouette while windowpanes flicker and flame across the valley.

This time of day has always held witchery for me. It loosens my grip on reality, tilts wildly under my feet, and turns my eyes giddy and galaxy-bound. It once sent me sprawling in a forest during Capture the Flag, and my clearest memory of that evening is not being able to find my way back up in the whispering half-light. I hated the dusk then (as a freshly face-planted teenager well might), but tonight, it thrills.

I’ve been needing an escape route from the drudgery I’ve wallowed into lately, and a cosmic tilt-a-whirl seems to be just the thing. My bones have needed to prowl. My silhouette has ached to dance. My eyes are long-overdue for a spin up and up, past street lamps and clouds and thought and  into the starry ether beyond.

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