So, I know I’ve been pretty absent around her for the past few weeks. A lot has happened. I’ve sold a couple of small paintings, had strep throat, met a rattlesnake on a hike, and turned 24. My domain even expired while I wasn’t looking! I haven’t been online much at all, and I’m actually ok with that. Sometimes we need to unplug.
Most of the reason I’ve been gone is because I’ve been in a serious creative funk lately. I’ve started a few new paintings but I’ve run into some walls with both of them. Nothing a little modeling paste and rethinking can’t fix, but walls nonetheless. I haven’t worked on my novel much, I haven’t been very active on Etsy, and my studio is such a disaster that I can barely fit in there.
I figured I could either hide behind some fluffy posts or just take a break. I chose the latter, because I knew I’d be in the mood to post again soon.
So, about creative funks. I don’t like to call them “blocks” because it sounds like something outside of ourselves that’s causing us to avoid creating, but it’s really not. Nothing that has happened over the last few months could have inevitably blocked me, but a funk, now that feels more like the sticky, mucky, internal mess that this really is. I picture it as getting stuck in molasses or tar; the gunk that clogs up our creative channels if we don’t clear it out in time. That gunk will always come, but it can either get stuck or pass through fairly painlessly.
In the past few months, I’ve uncovered and run into rejection, shock, the possibility of major change, shame, anxiety, guilt, regret, and all kinds of stuff that loves to gunk up our creativity like a giant hairball in a drain. This all came on fairly quickly and I didn’t really allow myself the time or means to move it out before it congealed. I avoided talking or thinking about it and instead read a bunch of (amazing) books, busied myself with household chores (my apartment is still a mess somehow), organized my ever-growing Pinterest boards so I can access my inspiration easier, and taking lots of walks. I knew that funk was there, but I wasn’t ready to deal with it. I’d let myself think about it in passing moments, tiny bites at a time because the whole elephant just seemed like too much.
I haven’t nailed down a surefire way to get out of these creative funks, but I do know that our spirits and therefore creativity are an ecosystem as delicate and complex as any rainforest, and all the little elements need to be there and working together in order for the whole to function properly. The extinction of one insect, the absence of one seemingly trivial ritual can potentially throw the whole system out of whack. Life is far too messy to balance properly, but we can make sure that the necessary things get taken care of. Creativity is a delicate little creature that needs proper care to survive. ”
Real” artists aren’t exempt from this. All creators struggle to keep their systems balanced, though some may have themselves figured out more than others. So, my solution for my creative funk is to do what I can to restore the environment in which my creativity can thrive. This means different things for different people, but for me it means making space for “creative playtime”, reading inspirational things like Laura Hollick’s blog or The Artist’s Way, and making sure to connect with myself by journaling and daydreaming instead of filling every free second with other reading or Minesweeper.
This morning, I’m planning to take myself shopping for art supplies with the rest of my birthday money and then having some creative playtime before I go to work. The thought of artmaking actually terrifies me at the moment, but I know that bribing myself with some new toys from the art supply store will coax me out of my shell. Whatever happens in the studio today will be ok, even if I completely ruin whatever I’m working on, make something wonderful, discover that I want to go in a completely different direction, bawl my eyes out, whatever. It’s all ok.
22 years ago today, Jim Henson passed away, but he left the world with his numerous creations that continue to influence people of all ages today.
I wrote about Jim last year and how he revolutionized entertainment. I called him my “creative role model”, which he certainly is.
Though my work bares little or no resemblance to Jim’s, I’m still surprised by how much his work has affected my life and creativity. I almost always watch Fraggle Rock or the Muppet Show while I paint. If you’ve met me in person, you’ve experienced my oddball sense of humor and puns that were shaped by years of watching the Doctor Bob sketches on The Muppet Show. If you read my writing (which I’m assuming you do), you know that I have an optimistic view on the world and I use humor to get through the rough times.
Jim left a lasting legacy of silliness, creativity, optimism, and the general joy of being alive. Not everything he created was wildly successful, be he kept creating and playing nonetheless. He loved what he did and the people he work with. This is why he’s my creative role model.
Just for fun, tell me about your favorite Jim Henson creation in the comments! The Muppet Show? Sesame Street? Labyrinth? Fraggle Rock? Let’s hear it!
I’ve been a “creative type” all my life and I’ve noticed that when people comment on my art/writing/singing/piano playing/acting, the often follow the comment with something like “I’m not creative. I don’t have any gifts like that.”
Everyone is creative. More specifically, everyone has creativity. Each one of us has unlimited creative potential, but most of us think of creativity as a novelty, a gift that some people have rather than a lifestyle. Creativity is like health. It’s our natural state of being, but it gets lost without the proper care. Like health, our precious creativity can be eroded by stress, lack of self-care, negativity, and skewed ideas of what this trait actually is. It’s about thriving, not surviving. Health is not dragging yourself from day to day while relying on crutches like caffeine and sugar just as creativity isn’t performing your basic duties required to hold you life together.
You can learn to cultivate creativity. I’ve written about this before, but here are some tips to keep your creative channels clean and healthy:
- Let go of perfectionism.
- Make space in your schedule for “creative playtime.” You need it. Do whatever lights you up whether it’s making a piece of art, dabbling in poetry, inventing a new cheesecake recipe, or staring that novel you’ve always wanted to write. Do this regularly. It doesn’t have to be perfect, or even good. It’s just playtime.
- Take care of yourself physically and emotionally.Deal with stress in healthy ways. It’s hard to think creatively if you’re in survival mode. Exercise and eat foods that nourish you. Get to bed at a decent hour. You live through your body, so if you’re body is dragging, your creativity will too.
- Follow your inspiration. Notice the things that draw you in, and don’t fight them. If you’re oddly drawn to Japanese cooking, go for it. If you’ve always wanted to learn to sew, get on Craiglist and find a sewing machine. If a certain book or movie stirs something in your soul, tear that sucker apart until you find what’s awakened.
- Accept that you are a creative being. Understanding this deep in your soul will open up a new world of possibility and adventure for you. Tell yourself that you are creative. Believe it. Allow yourself to see the world through the eyes of a creative person, and you will start to see things differently.
How does that feel? Do you feel that you’re a creative person?
…or anyone who’s crunched for time really. Since going back to work full-time, I’m learning to manage my time better to make more time for art and writing. It’s not easy! I know that plenty of other artists may have children or other commitments on top of a full-time job, so learning to use our time wisely is paramount to our creative work.
I’m still figuring this out as I go, but I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far:
- Always make time for self-care: This might seem like the opposite of saving time, but if I blow off my daily walk, journaling, or sleep, my energy plummets and I end up wasting a lot more time because my body and mind are dragging. It’s worth it to get at least seven or eight hours of sleep, a daily walk, and some journaling in the morning or evening. Find out what you need to keep your batteries charge and make that your number one priority. Everything else will follow.
- Streamline food prep: My two tools for this are batch cooking and the almighty crockpot. Each weekend or whenever I have time, I boil a dozen eggs or so, roast some veggies, maybe cook up some beans, and prep anything else I’ll need to assemble quick meals and snacks throughout the week. The crockpot is my best friend lately. I use it for making bone broth, beans, soup, and most dinners during the week, which turn into leftovers for lunches. It can be as simple as a chicken breast and some salsa on low for eight hours, and I just throw it in a tortilla when I get home. Done.
- Consolidate errands: Instead of running a bunch of isolated errands throughout the week, I do them all at once on the shortest route possible. If I have library books to return, I’ll do my grocery shopping at the store across the street and run any other errands I have in that part of town, like post office runs or picking up art supplies. If I need to put my husband’s check in the bank, I’ll shop at that grocery store and buy my cousin’s wedding gift at the Shopko next door. I try to do only one errand run every week.
- Know your priorities: I have a wash and wear haircut and my makeup routine takes about ninety seconds. I don’t waste time styling my hair or doing smoky cat eyes, because it’s not on my priority list. I don’t spend much time on Facebook, I don’t watch TV, and I wash my hair every other day. Know what’s important to you and what’s not. Cut out the rest.
- Streamline housework: Keep a container of Lysol wipes in the bathroom and wipe everything down once or twice a week after your shower. This keeps things looking clean for longer between thorough cleaning. Take one morning or even every other week or so to dust, mop the kitchen floor, and run a vacuum. If you have higher housekeeping standards than this, that’s fine, but be willing to sacrifice more of your creative time.
- Use cash: This is also a handy budgeting tips. Remove set amounts of cash for groceries, entertainment, and other expenses. This way, you can see how much you have to spend, and since that money is already accounted for, that’s less time balancing the checkbook and keeping track of the budget. Maybe not much time, but when I actually do this, it saves me money and brain space.
- Learn to use little spare minutes: Eight minutes before work to read a few pages, 30 seconds lulls at work for some deep breathing, ten minutes to collage something onto a painting. You don’t have to fill every second with activity, but rather learn to appreciate the spare minutes.
Time is a gift. This isn’t the busiest I’ve ever been, not by a long shot, but being busy teaches me how to appreciate my time really learn to take care of myself, to discipline myself to think clearly and understand what’s important to me. I don’t have children. I only have one job that takes 40 hours of my time every week. I don’t go to school. I could have a lot less time on my hands, and sometimes I feel weak for struggling with what I do have. True, winter is a rough season for me and things seem a lot harder right now, and I’m still adjusting, I’m trying to start my art career, and it’s a lot for me.
Do what you can do, and feel good about it. Time is precious, no matter how much or how little you have.
Today, I get to do something that would’ve made me cry a month or two ago.
I get to go back to work full-time.
After a few months of really choppy income and lots of stress, we’ve decided that I need to be the main breadwinner so that Sam can focus on his (very intense) schoolwork.
I resisted this idea at first. I need time to make art and promote myself! I barely have enough energy to work part-time and do laundry! At first, I felt like a failure and a sell-out for choosing financial stability over extra time to dedicate to my art.
I took some time to think about it, and I realized that this is one of the most caring things I can do for myself right now.
The truth is, I really enjoy my job. It’s actually something related to my degree, I’m good at it and I feel appreciated there. It pays better than any other job I’ve had and it’s quite laid-back.
With me working full-time, Sam can take the most intense weeks of school off. We’ll be able to afford healthier food, and I can buy the supplements that help my anxiety and winter blues. With benefits, I can keep up on my doctor, optometrist, and dental check-ups.
Most importantly, this will take care of A LOT of our overall stress, and that means more mental energy to dedicate to my art and writing. Security is a huge factor in my emotional health, and the stress of being financially strapped far outweighs the stress of a busier schedule.
I see this as a huge act of self-care. Yes, I’ll have to adjust my routines and learn to juggle a busier work schedule with artmaking and self-care, but the peace I feel inside tells me that it will work out.
Self-care isn’t always what it seems.
I’m thankful that this opportunity presented itself when we needed it, and it galvanized my belief that life (or God, the Universe, whatever) has a way of providing for us, even if it doesn’t seem like what we want at the time. Things work out.
I haven’t been in school for awhile, but I feel I’ve just crash-landed after finals weeks. It might be sympathy stress because my husband just finished his finals after weeks of long days and late nights of homework, but most of it is my own stress.
I learned something about stress this week: If I’m stressed, and if that stress has anything to do with my art, I’m not connected to my passion. I’ve stopped listening to my spirit. If art is stressful to me, that means I am trying to create from a place of fear, not love.
All week long, I’ve been juggling to-do lists and stressing over things I won’t go into here. I haven’t gotten much painting done. I rarely felt that pull to the canvas. No itch.
When I realized this today, I pulled out my notebook and asked myself what I need to do. What does my soul want me to do? The answer came immediately: Back off. Stop attaching to-do lists to my art. Give myself the space to think. Stop worrying about self-imposed deadlines. Trust my creativity, because when I let myself off the hook and get into a mindset of passion and joy for creating, everything just flows.
So I’m letting go of the expectations I had for this weekend. I can paint all day if I want, but I can take some time to read or go for a long walk or watch some Christmas movies if I want. The art will come when I’m taken care of.
Now, what about you?
The holidays can be stressful, and sometimes we neglect ourselves because we “have” to do so much. We feel that we have to fulfill our own or someone else’s expectations and that it’s unacceptable to relax and even do nothing if we need to.
Give yourself the gift of peace, and let yourself relax so you can feel like “you” again. Whatever gets you centered and clear, do that. Take some time off from parties and shopping this weekend and give yourself some completely unstructured time. Ask yourself what you really want to do, deep down, and you’ll always find an answer. This works with bigger decisions as well. We all have an internal compass that tries to direct us, even though we forget about it sometimes. Make a habit of noticing when you’re tense or otherwise not in a good place, and ask yourself why. Ask yourself what you need to do.
Every time I fill a journal, I feel like I’m closing a chapter of my life and embarking on a new one, even though nothing in my life changes other than the book in which I write my thoughts. Sometimes it’s crazy to realize that I’ve filled an entire book.
This last journal is a special accomplishment. I’ve never learned and grown as much as I have during the time recorded in my most recent journal. I’ve gone from overweight, depressed, anxious and nearly hopeless to grateful, joyful, conscious, and at peace with my body and life. I’ve reconnected to my creativity and I’m laying the foundation for a career that mirrors who I am.
I always wonder who will end up reading my journals and whether he or she will need the help of a handwriting analyst to do so. Probably my children and grandchildren. They’ll learn more about me than they ever wanted to know. Sometimes I worry about what I’ve written, that it will shame me someday. My journals are intensely personal, and I often cringe when I read my teenage journals; the love drama, disordered eating and thought patterns, over-dramatic musings over things that seem so trivial now.
What can I say. I’m an emotional person. I feel things deeply, and for a long time I didn’t know how to handle those feelings. I thought they’d eat me alive. Every unrequited crush, bad grade, pound gained or bad day felt like the end of the world, like it could swallow me whole.
I’m far from perfect, but I feel like I’m in a good place. I’m far more balanced now than I’ve ever been before, and I feel more alive than I did as a child climbing trees in the backyard. I think I have a healthy sense of perspective, direction for my life and career, a solid foundation for handling emotions and caring for myself, and my self-esteem is better than it has ever been. It’s sad that it took me 23 years to discover my own worth, but not unusual. Everyone hits this point at different times, and some never arrive at all. I may not always be this healthy either, I may have to rediscover this place a few times throughout my life. Now that I know where it is, hopefully it will be easier to find in the future.
I wonder if the word “journal” shares a root with “journey”. That’s what a journal is to me.
So, today is my half-birthday.
On my actual birthday this year, I posted a list of things I’ve learned in those years, even though I’d learned most of them in the past year. 22-23 was a year of tremendous emotional struggle and growth for me. The the six months since my birthday were much less painful, I feel I learned as much as I did in that bumpy year. In six months, I’ve gone from a mass of unorganized creativity and hope running around like a dog let out of the kennel at the end of the day, to being focused and clear. Six months ago, I was just happy to be free. Now, I have direction and I’m taking steps to lay the foundation of my creative career.
I feel that’s something to celebrate.
Do you celebrate, or even acknowledge your half birthdays?
I’m sitting in the lobby of the Kimball Art Center right now at one of the café tables where I used to do homework and eat dark Dove chocolate bars during class breaks or sip mandarin orange Tazo tea on cold days. I think of the time I eavesdropped on a group of professors discussing an article on nudity in art and how pompous they sounded. I love eavesdropping.
I remember the ceiling three stories up and how I used to scare myself by looking down from the top floor. Footsteps echo off the concrete walls and no one speaks above a whisper, but somehow this space is as comforting as my own living room. I remember the ache of my tailbone grinding into the floor as I drew crumpled cardboard sculptures and the men in the African totem sculptures, and how amazing I felt when I completed a drawing.
That drawing class. The teacher required a paper pad and clipboard so big I used it as a lean-to to ward off sunburn when we spent the afternoon the sculpture garden drawing the lights. The professor told me I’d produced the best work in the class that day, that my work had “soul”, that mysterious, elusive quality that I didn’t quite understand at the time. He often made us draw the same light switches and doorknobs four times across the page, which I found agonizing. I loved it and hated it at the same time.
Even though I loved being an English major, my art experiences are what I really remember when I think of my college days. My year as an art major awakened me to so much; I’d always been an artist, but I was eighteen and the world of “serious” art was completely foreign to me.
I changed my major because I couldn’t learn art as a science, trading emotion for hard parameters and judgment. I always missed it though. I felt comfortable with English, but for the rest of my college career, I’d visit the building with a sense of longing, feel something ache inside of me as I looked over the student work on the walls or the BFA exhibits. When registration rolled around, I’d flip through the catalog and mourn the classes I’d have no room to take. It’s ironic, because I that first year as an art major, I missed writing so badly, it hurt. I loved English, but something was always missing. I left art behind. I made the mistake of choosing my writer identity over my artist, believing one was more important than the other and not realizing that I need both in large amounts. They’re both me, and I’m not just one or the other. I’m not half and half either, but completely both at the same time. Without them both, I am not me. I wasn’t truly happy, because I let the artist in me starve.
It’s hard to wrap my brain around this; how I am two seemingly different things simultaneously. I tend to think differently in “artist mode” or “writer mode”, but I never produce my best work if I only use one or the other at a time. Lately, I’ve consciously tried to maintain both mindsets, even while painting or writing.
I am simultaneously artist and writer, completely encompassed by both. Though I can’t really comprehend the logic of that, I know that it’s true and it feels right, and I am learning to embody both at all times, in everything I do.
Embody who and what you are, and live authentically.