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Creative Funks

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.

It happens.

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.

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What do you want to be when you grow up?

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I’m feeling kind of lazy today, so I thought I’d let you guys help me write my post today.

My favorite question to ask people when I’m getting to know them is “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This is usually after I’ve know them long enough that they know that I’m kind of a weirdo, so this doesn’t seem odd to them. I say it this way to grown-ups instead of asking “What do you want to do?” or the dreaded “What do you want to do with your life?” which sounds too guidance counselory. I like to ask this way because this is what we’re asked when we’re children, and this is what we ask children.

Children are completely honest and don’t worry about “can’t”s or the job market or limitations of any kind. They just say what they feel. This is a good way to find our real desires.

I want to get to know you guys better, and most of you have probably been reading this here blog long enough to understand my quirks, so now I’m asking you: What do you want to be when you grow up?

I’ll start: I want/wanted to be an artist and a writer, among other things.

Ok, now it’s your turn. Lurkers, this is your chance to say hello!

What do you want to do today?

Sometimes when I feel like I’m moving too fast or running on autopilot, I like to stop and get back on track. One of my favorite ways to reawaken myself to my own life and purpose is to get out my journal and write about what I would do that day if I didn’t have to do anything. I might also write about my ideal day, or maybe just list 20 or so things that I love to do and remind myself to build my life around those.

A lot of people think they’d lay around and watch TV all day if they didn’t have to do anything, and that may be true, but everyone is passionate about something. People need to actually do things to be happy. If you don’t know what you like to do, you might want to start there.

My day usually involves reading, writing, making art, taking walks, and spending time with my husband. Pretty simple. Some days I feel like going on an adventure and some days I’d rather curl up with a blanket and a Tracy Chevalier novel. Still, playing this little game helps me reassess what I’m doing and whether it’s getting me where I need to go. We should enjoy our lives. It’s not all fun and games; we all have things that need to get done that we’d rather not do, but the bulk of our lives should be enjoyable.

Find out what you love most and build your life around that. Use your “ideal day” writing as a compass.

Today, if I didn’t have to go to work, I’d go for a walk, work on some new paintings, prepare two of my paintings for an upcoming juried show, read a little, write in my journal, and go for a walk in the evening. Maybe a picnic with my husband. That’s actually what I’m planning to do today, more or less, just with my regular workday in the middle.

What would you do today, or on your ideal day? What do you love to do more than anything?

Wise Words: True Change

Change happens when you understand what you want to change so deeply that there is no reason to do anything but act in your own best interest.

-Geneen Roth, Women, Food, and God

The Season of Reflection

“Misunderstood” by Jude Harzer

This is my experimental winter. I’ve had winter blues since I was a child, but this year I decided to accept it and observe it rather than feel angry.

I’ve learned to accept that this is my slower time of year, that this season is for contemplating and reflecting. I do a lot of that in the summer too, but it’s different.

I’ve realized that winter is when all my inner garbage comes to the surface. Any buried fears, hurts, loneliness, anger, or pain of any sort comes out. For years I’ve stuffed it down with food and denial, and while I’ve done my fair share of emotional eating this winter, I’ve also done a lot of “cleaning.”Issues that I thought I’d resolved and pains I didn’t even know were there are floating up for me to work with. They lift their heads and say “here I am!” and even though they seem like ugly little suckers at first, they all have something valuable to teach me. When I learn, I reap the peace and freedom that comes from letting go, and enjoy it all summer long until the next round of “trash picking” arrives. It’s like rebreaking bones so they’ll set properly. It’s painful and liberating. I know that dealing with these feelings authentically is the only way to move past them.

I’ve understood this for awhile now, but I’m writing about it now because the biggest monster of all has risen to the surface, past hurts lodged deep inside. I’ve had a massive headache all day long and I feel exhausted because  haven’t taken the time to sit with him, hear what he needs me to know, and send him on his way. My deepest, slimiest, most gripping fear has come to visit. I doubt this is the last time I’ll see him, but I can feel that our relationship is about to change.

I don’t think I’m the only one who goes through periods like this. I think everyone does to some degree, but not many of us realize it. It’s terrifying and painful when our deep hurts rise up for us to see. We numb them out, we shut our eyes, we pretend they aren’t there, but they don’t leave until they’re acknowledged. Sometimes we call this depression, or a bad day, or getting “triggered.” These times come in all shapes and forms.

Notice when these times come to you. You’ll probably feel tense or grumpy, maybe weepy, you may feel physical discomforts, maybe all of the above like me. Don’t fear it. Meet your monsters, listen to them, and part as friends (or at least call a truce).

Enjoy the peace of letting go.

Wise Words: Paint your Reality

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I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to,

and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.

-Frida Kahlo

Artist and Writer

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.

Big Scary Monster Series: The Fear of our own Potential

"Mental Claustrophobia" sculpture by McKella Sawyer, 1,000 fabric swatches and insecurities

Let’s start off with this pearl of wisdom:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”


Marianne Williamson (emphasis my own)

I think one of the saddest things in the world is to see potential go to waste.  We all have missions in life, gifts we have to offer the world, but many of us shrink back instead of rising to the calling.

Why?

Well, we’re scared. Scared that we won’t make it, that no one wants what we have to give, that we have nothing original to offer, or we’re just afraid of taking the risks that come with being great.

On the other hand, a lot of us are unconsciously terrified of actually succeeding. We’re afraid to be seen, or to have the openness required to become truly inspiring. We’re afraid that by breaking social norms or class restrictions that we’re “getting above ourselves”, somehow betraying our own.

In our society with it’s Puritanical ethics, we feel that acknowledging our gifts and potential, we’re being prideful or that by taking the time to develop those gifts, we’re being selfish. We’re making others uncomfortable. We feel that by stepping into our greatness, we are somehow wrong.

No wonder we’re so terrified of our own light.

And it’s totally ok to be  afraid. Give your big scary monster a hug and tell him this:

  • It is my responsibility as a human being to share my light with the world.
  • Taking the time and space to develop my gifts and realize my purpose isn’t selfish. Not reaching out to those who need me, hiding my gifts, not leaving my handprint on this world…now that would be selfish.
  • Pride and confidence in my abilities are not the same thing.
  • Everyone has a purpose, and so do I.
  • I can succeed. I will succeed.
Yes, you will.
PS: Don’t forget to submit your posts for the Big Scary Monster series! The goal of this series is to talk about and face our Big Scary Monsters and ultimately make friends with them, because monsters need friends too. 
You can email them to me to be featured on Handprint Soul, write them on your own blog and send me the link, or simply leave your thoughts in the comments. I’ll include links to all submissions in a roundup post at the end of the month. Thanks!

The Bravest Thing: Self-Discovery Word-by-Word

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Skydiving? Freestyle rock climbing? Saving a baby from a burning building?

Joining the military to defend our country? Quitting a stable job to stay at home with your kids?

Giving unrealistic expectations and social norms the middle finger and living your own life?

Bravery comes in different forms, but sometimes the scariest things in this world have nothing to do with physical danger.

Instead of fighting dragons, we might be standing up for ourselves and what we believe in, choosing to love ourselves the way we are, or deciding to live according to our own values despite society’s relentless messages that we are not good enough, that we always have to change, buy something, or do something to make us worthwhile.

I used to think I was a ‘fraidy cat because I’m afraid of doing anything that involves being towed behind a speedboat, or because I’ve crossed skydiving off my Handprint List, or because I dated some guys or had friends who were really bad for me because I didn’t think I could get anything better.

I feared rejection, failure and most of all, hurting other people’s feelings and being a “bad person”. Over the last few months though, I’ve learned that sometimes, you have to be willing to disappoint someone, or get rejected, or even piss someone off.  Sometimes you have to just accept that some people will think badly of you, that you’re a wingnut or too outspoken or even selfish. While you don’t want everyone to think of you this way, do the right thing.

Leave. Or stay.

Do it. Or don’t.

Make a decision. Change your mind. Even if someone disapproves. You know what’s right. Do it.

Say no. Take time to think about it.

Listen to your body.

Wear the damn swimsuit.

I think one of our deepest fears is the disapproval of others, but this fear is rooted in the deepest fear of all: That without the approval of our peers, we are nothing. We are only worthwhile if everyone else things we are.

This is the biggest lie we tell ourselves. Deep in our hearts, in our very souls, we know who we are, what we were sent here to do and what is right for us. We might forget this sometimes, but we know our own worth. Living authentically means eliminating the sway of “What will everyone else think?” and accepting our own worth and uniqueness.

Accepting our worth takes courage. Living our purpose takes courage. We can never accomplish these things we feel we need to look, act, or be a certain way.

Be brave. Be yourself.

This post is part of Self-Discovery Word-by-Word. This month’s host is Dr. Dana Udall-Weiner at The Body and the Brood. The word for June 2011 is “Bravery”. 

 

How to Share your Awesome

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Here’s something I truly believe:

As human beings, it is our duty to share our gifts with the world. 

Yet a lot of us don’t. Why is that?

  • Sometimes we don’t recognize our inherent gifts and talents
  • In an effort to be humble and to avoid rocking the boat, we deny our talents.
  • We feel that others don’t want what we have to offer.
  • We fear that what we have to offer isn’t valuable. 
  • We feel that we aren’t valuable.
I’m just going to be straight-up with you: Hiding our awesomeness from the world is irresponsible and selfish. We might not have selfish motives, but when we don’t share our talents, we are denying the world something that it was meant to have. It’s like refusing to pay your taxes on a spiritual level.
We’re all here to help each other and we’ve been given tools to do that in our own unique way.  Some of us are create things that inspire others. Others are brave and strong and can physically protect others. Still others are curious and discover things that can improve our lives like medicines and electricity. Everyone has at least one incredible gift, even if it’s a subtle one like the gift of appreciation. Everyone wants to be appreciated, and you’d be amazed how far a thank you or a nice little “Hey, that’s really cool!”  boost will go.
What’s stopping you from fully sharing your gifts? 
We hide our light for all kinds of reasons, and sometimes that reason is that it hasn’t been tested yet. Everything grows stronger through opposition, it’s like working a muscle with weights. Until we’ve had to struggle to use our gift, we haven’t learned to really grasp it’s value to us. This struggle finds everyone at some point. Don’t fear it; it’s a vital part to your personal development. It ain’t fun, but it needs to happen.
Here are some tips for breaking through your blocks and springing your full-fledged amazingness into the world:
  • Know what your gifts are. What do you like to do? What do others tell you you’re good at? What did you enjoy as a child? Do whatever you need to do to find our what you’re good at.
  • Develop those gifts. Practice, read books, take classes, do whatever it takes to get good at those gifts and feel confident sharing them.
  • Trust your gifts. You have them for a reason. They’re meant to help you and others. Allow them to do that.
  • Stop being shy about it. Cockiness is one thing, but being aware of your talents and refusing to feel sheepish is one of the most powerful ways  to share. Take opportunities to share. Make opportunities. If someone asks you if you’re good at (insert amazing gift here) say “Yes!”.
  • Find your purpose and how your gifts play into that. I feel silly sticking this in a little bullet-point, but your purpose is the mother ship of all your gifts. Your talents support your purpose. Do some work, find out what you want to do and what you’re meant to do, then figure out how your talents can accomplish that.  Need help getting started? Try this exercise by Steve Pavlina. It’ll at least get you thinking.
  • Know that you and your gifts are valuable. Nothing kills a sense of purpose like low-self esteem. Do some  work, realize how valuable you are to the world just by being yourself. And being yourself doesn’t mean feeling like a loser and doing nothing, though we all do that sometimes. Being yourself means striving, evolving and living as your best self, which is what this blog is all about.
  • Find others who want what you have to offer. When you’ve discovered your gifts, do a little marketing research. Where can you apply yourself? Can you help a worthy cause? Should you start a business? Think now. Research.
We all have incredible strength and capacity for growth and giving, most of us just don’t know it yet. If you haven’t embarked on this journey yet, grab knapsack, ’cause it’s a biggun. Good luck!
What are your gifts? How are you living and sharing them?