It’s Friday evening, and the house is quiet. Pat took the kids to violin lessons. I am sitting on my bed and outlining my body, like a snow angel’s shadow, are scraps of paper scrawled with lists, plans, and ideas. A waterlogged notebook lies to my side; it's opened to this morning’s journal entry. A desktop paper calendar, ahead of me, is marked with 14 X’s, frantic arrows, emphatic underlines, and several doodles. Then there is a stack of sticky notes, a handful of pens and pencils, and that bracelet that I have to take off when I am typing.
I’ve spent the afternoon planning the content that I want to share with you in upcoming blog posts debuting in future weeks. There is so much that I want to do - so much that I want to share with you, and there is so little time.
In fact, time is what I had started to write about for this Monday’s blog - time and intention. Actually, I had written about a helpful exercise that prompts you to write your ideal obituary as a means to identify your life’s goals and intentions.
I like this exercise because I have this fear that I am going to get to the end and have regrets. I’m worried that I will have not done all of the things that I wanted to do.
I want to live a life that it is wild and free, that is creative and purposeful, and I believe that it’s my mission in life to inspire others to express their own creativity and their truest selves. Meanwhile, I want to live a life of healing, growing, and expanding.
As I tried to edit my rough draft about writing our own obituaries, I couldn’t bring myself to continue, because this afternoon in my home town of Aurora, IL, where my whole family still lives, there was an armed shooter at a local factory not far from where I went to school and grew up. In fact, the shooting happened in my family's neighborhood. I can not write about imagined obituaries now knowing about the five innocent victims of that vengeful, violent rage. I can’t imagine what suffering their families must be going through tonight, and my heart goes out to them.
And I don’t know what else I could possibly add to the rhetoric about gun violence and gun restrictions, that hasn’t already been said. Strangely, there was one line of my rough draft that oddly stood out from all of the rest. It was the final line, and it really has no connection to the rest of the piece. It isn’t even a complete thought. It reads:
“How we treat one another, how we talk to ourselves, how we love one another”
I think this pretty much sums it all up. Whether we are writing our imagined obituaries or real ones, let's be mindful of “how we treat one another, how we talk to ourselves, and how we love one another”.
Life is short and never certain. How have you loved today?
Hey Artist, Writers, and Makers
More From Spring Bird
After posting last week’s blog post about Creativity and Choice, someone commented that they are feeling called to create but lack the time to fulfill that yearning.
While I now have the privilege of devoting the bulk of my time to being professionally creative, there were times when I felt the deep longing to create without the time to express it. It is an uncomfortable place to be in. If you have a calling to create but are low on time, please beware to not silence the yearning - it often costs us more to quiet a call than to answer one. Whenever I don’t have enough time to express myself creatively, I get a tight, frustrated feeling that I usually and unfortunately pass along to my family members. I can get ugly.
If your creativity is calling and you are pressed for time, try making an inventory of everything you do. Ask yourself how is your time accounted for?
Our time can be divided into three categories - “Things we have to do”, “Things we should do or tend to do”, and “Free Time.”
What things do you absolutely need to do? These are things like work, paying bills, caring for loved ones, and sleep. (I don’t recommend carving into sleep unless absolutely necessary.)
Next, what are the things that you feel like you should do or the things that you tend to do? This is where there might be some wiggle room. For instance, like me, you might clean your house less frequently. For me, living in a dusty house means more time to make. On the other hand, maybe you can employ help in cleaning. Just because you are the one that usually cleans your toilets doesn’t mean you have to always be the one. Children and partners can share in the workload around the house.
If you're the one mainly responsible for cooking dinner every night, could someone else take a turn, even if that someone is delivery, to free up an hour a week of your time? Or share in cleaning up?
If you are caring for small children or elderly parents, could you swap babysitting or caretaking with another creative to free up 2 hours a week?
In my experience, I felt like I did a lot, most, of the caretaking, cooking, and cleaning for many years, and recently, I’ve unloaded a lot of that on my husband. It has taken time to adjust, but if I hadn’t, I never would have known that he is an amazing cook, he’s more responsive to the laundry buzzer than I ever was, and he can clean a mean toilet. In return, I have more time and energy for creativity. I am so thankful for all of the work he does because I know what it allows me to do. Okay, enough about the work distribution in our house.
Finally, what does your free time look like - if any? What could be shifted? Maybe you give up a night of socializing, a night of TV, or spend less time on your phone. I know that one thing that I have been giving up is exercising, which isn’t a good thing. I have managed to cut out exercising, reading, and meditation from my daily routine, and I am working on getting them back in. It’s truly hard to to do everything all the time. I do think it’s helpful to be gentle with ourselves. We can’t do it all at once. It can be helpful to think about what is most important right now and try focusing on doing that for a month.
After auditing your time, locate where you can carve out some time for your creativity - even if it is a half hour a week. Doing your work consistently will build up over time until a period in your life when there will hopefully be more time. I also recommend carrying a small sketchbook or notebook with you everywhere to jot ideas and sketches, or record your thoughts on your phone’s voice recorder while you are driving, or jot down notes on your app while you're standing in line. If you are lucky enough to commute on public transportation (winking here), you can write, draw, crochet, knit, or plan while you commute. I find that when I would work publicly it would brighten others’ days and would often spark conversation. Who knows maybe your crocheting on a train will inspire someone else to make something. Creativity can be contagious!
At the very least go to bed thinking and dreaming about your creative project, visualize it, get excited for it. This is my very favorite way to fall asleep. Hope this helps! Let me know what strategies for making time for your creativity you use.
PS I am currently developing a workbook to help structure your creative project so that you can manifest your dream project! Stay-tuned for it debuting later this month. I am really excited!!!
Hey Artist, Writers, and Makers
Years ago I used to teach toddler art at Elmhurst Art Museum. This is to say that I provided opportunities for kids to explore and play using a variety of art materials. The toddlers already innately understood what creativity and creating was all about. This was their opportunity to learn a new method and to basically freedom to safely make a mess with their caretaker or parent by their side.
The most wonderful thing about toddlers is that they don’t doubt their creativity, and so they don’t think twice about their creative choices. There is no second guessing on which crayon they choose, but unfortunately for some toddlers, they would hear doubt coming from the adult sitting next to them. I would sometimes witness parents and caretakers censoring their child’s creative choices. I don’t mean recommending their child not eat glue or stick a dyed, raw pasta in their ear. What I do mean is they would tell their child not to paint a giraffe blue, make faces with three eyes, or to limit the amount of paint on their paper. The adult imposes their expectations on the outcome of the toddler’s project, when the whole point is develop the child’s creativity through exploration and making choices. What happens if I do this. . . The child does not have attachment to the outcome.
I remember one child who painted made a lovely silhouetted tree against a watercolor horizon. These were older, preschool kids. So, I let them use waterproof india ink. This child then came to understand the potency of the black ink and decided to paint the entire paper in thick black ink. As the landscape disappeared under a void of black, I could see the child brim with satisfaction of the inky process. You want to try it now, don’t you?
We adults often don’t get it. We have forgotten what true creative choice is. We’ve probably forgotten because adults have taught us to mistrust our choices. We’ve been taught to focus on the outcome - the product - something that looks “right” - that could be posted on our refrigerator. We’ve been taught what is “right’ and what is “wrong”. We’ve been taught conformity which ultimately leads to doubt and shame if we don’t.
When I was teaching, I’d try to combat the parent or caretaker’s direction by affirming the child by reminding the parent that artists get to choose.
That’s what is powerful about art but often gets overlooked. Artists make choices, and we have to make peace with our choices. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. If you are in art school, you have to have reasons for your choices. You have to think through historical conventions and symbology, but you get to decide what and how you are going to say or show something.
If creativity means having choice, with creativity we can look at our lives and think outside of prescriptions, beyond limits, and around hierarchies. We don’t have to accept what is. With creativity, a giraffe can be blue and have six eyes. We can choose.
If choice is freedom, it’s important to recognize when and where we have choice in our lives and where it is limited. Furthermore, we must acknowledge where we may be limiting someone else’s creative choices. It’s even more critical to ensure that everyone have the same freedom of choice that the most privileged has. It’s only through that freedom that we can paint our hippos pink, draw a face with seven ears, or paint over paper with such vigor and passion until it is riddled with holes.
Our freedom of creative choice means possibilities of creative power and creative vision, and to be able to see beyond the accepted and limiting standards to a world of better choices.
Hey Artist, Writers, and Makers
Want to Write for Woolgathering?
More From Spring Bird
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself sitting on my doctor’s exam table giving creative advice. My doctor, an oil painter, told me that she hadn’t been painting in awhile, and she wanted to start again but was being stopped by a mixture of tiredness and fear. She was afraid to continue a painting of a barn because it might not be good.
I told her, as she washed her hands, to give herself permission to make the absolute worst painting possible. It was Okay to make a bad painting. This was borrowed advice that I had so gratefully received from my thesis advisor, John Ploof at SAIC. I stole his bit of wisdom and now apply it to all of my creative projects.
In fact as I am writing this blog post, I am worried that it is awful and that I am running of topics. As I work through illustrations for the Spring Issue of Woolgathering, I am afraid that I am making terrible paintings - that my ideas are unoriginal and uninspired.
And even if they are, even if my doctor’s barn painting turns out horrible, there is always revision. There is always another painting. There is always growth.
Sometimes in order to get through a creative block, you just have to build. You have to produce. You have to clear out that clog by giving yourself permission to make the worst thing.
In doing so, you move through the paralyzing dead zone of fear and into the glorious flow.
You can only find movement by moving. Take action. Clear away the block for what’s to come and keep on building!
Calling All Artists, Writers, and Makers
Writers Wanted for Woolgathering!!!
More From Spring Bird!
I have a theory of Misplaced Creativity. This theory stipulates that when we don’t listen to our heart’s desire, in other words our truest creative self, and when we fail to indulge our creativity, we misplace it. We fail to fulfill a part of ourselves that wants to be born - that wants to be generated, and in doing so we look to fill that void of creation with other things.
When we stifle our creativity, we miss out on the satisfaction of being “fed” by our creativity.
When we don’t feed ourselves creatively, we remain “hungry”.
We try to satiate this hunger by other means - like eating actual food in unhealthy ways (guilty), by shopping beyond need (guilty), consuming media - especially social media in compulsive or excessive ways (guilty).
When we stifle our creativity, a generative mode, we wrongly switch into a consumer mode. This is not to say that we should sometimes be in a consumer mode, but our default mode should be generative. This means that most of the time, we should be asking: “What do I get to make?” and “What do I have to offer?” and not: “What do I get?” and “What is mine?” and “Is that all?”
It is while we are in generative mode that we literally shape and give meaning to our lives. When we misplace our creativity, we can become alienated from worlds and from ourselves. It's then that it’s best to look into our hearts and ask "what wants to be born?"
What is your heart’s desire?
PS Having troube answering that question, more on how to locate your heart’s desire to come in a future post!
Hey Writers! Woolgathering Seeks Submissions!!!
Have an essay, story, or poem about Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall?
I am looking for new contributors to Woolgathering!
Email submissions to email@example.com
Include "Wool_Season_2019" in the subject line.
Replace "Season" with whichever season (Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter) that is most appropriate for your piece.
Submission Forms: personal essays, informational essays, poems, or super short fiction
Submission Topics and Tone: All submissions should reflect upon the seasons and how they are integrated into our daily lives. They can be dreamy, informative, pragmatic, or just a good story.
Submission length: maximum 750 words
Spring: January 30th, 2019
Summer: March 31st
Fall: June 30th
Winter: Septermber 30th
Accepted submissions will be paid in a year's subscription to Woolgathering (Issues Only), or a "Four Seasons" Print, or a "You are Here" tote bag!!! (Your Choice!)
Philosopher Isaiah Berlin believed that writers and thinkers could be boiled down into two groups - foxes and hedgehogs. In this stratification, foxes know a little about many things, and hedgehogs know a lot about one thing.
At first blush, I regarded myself as a fox. Afterall, I am one of those cursed multi-passionate types that is “yes-anding” her way through life. I want to make art, write, blog, podcast, coach, make books, make movies, and the list goes on. In short, I want to make what I want, when I want, which requires knowing how to do lots of things at a surface level. I dabble in everything from weaving to setting up a website to learning how to make podcasts. The most horrible thing for me is to feel that I am forbidden from learning something new. I really don’t want to be boxed in. This may sound a bit like a symptom of my generation, but I also feel this very deeply in my psyche.
That said, when I took a Fox/Hedgehog quiz, (yes, there is one), I came out pretty heavily as a hedgehog. Overall, I’m a hedgehog in that I deeply believe that creativity is essential to humanity and something which we are all deserving of expressing. I’m a hedgehog in wanting to make everyone a creative productive person, but don’t believe there is just one way to do that. Furthermore, there is not even one way within a human to be a creative productive person.
So, it seems that I am both hedgehog and fox, and maybe all of us are a blend or bounce between the two. It definitely seems like Berlin is a hedgehog in his singular thinking about dividing everyone into one of two camps.
How about you? Are you guided by one central belief or do you see the relativity of everything? OR are you a mixture? Perhaps there needs to be a third animal added to this theory . . . a blend. . . a kangaroo, maybe?
More From Spring Bird
When I was managing teachers at an art center, one of my favorite aspects of the job was being able to affirm the intentions and dreams of my teachers. If I could help them to recognize something in themselves - something that they didn’t know was unique or special about how they taught, then I felt an amazing reward. Lifting them up, supporting them, in turn lifted me up.
The truth is that as creative people, we all have so much to offer the world.
And the beauty is that when we offer the world our creativity, our passions, we offer the world our love.
Furthermore, in giving this creative gift, we are fed and our communities are fed.
I have entered a stage of my life in which I feel called to help others develop their creativity - to shape it - to plan it- to affirm their value as creative humans.
In other words, I want to say to you, “Yes you can and you should!”-- do or make that things that sits in the back of your brain - that pulls at your heart - that taps you on the shoulder. And I want to help you get there - to work through the doubts, fears, and all of the reasons you are saying “no”.
We can get really good at ignoring that creative voice that is calling to us, but I think that we actually have to expend a lot of energy to keep it quiet. And there is really only one way to truly silence that call of creativity, and that is to listen to it, to feed it, like a mother bird feeds its hatchlings.
In the coming months, I will be developing a coaching practice that will involve one on one coaching, a course, and some written guides.
I am eager to be of service to your creative dreams - to helping you say yes to your voice - your dreams and passions. The world is ready for you!
PS If you are looking to develop your own creativity, have a dream project that you are wanting to get started, or are a creative who needs help getting unstuck, what kinds of services would be helpful? I.e. one on one coaching, help with imposing structure and deadlines, group support, etc. Let me know in the comments or email firstname.lastname@example.org
I love the New Year. It’s a time for setting goals, fresh starts, and new hopes.
I realize the New Year is arbitrary. You could and should start at any point in time to work towards your goals and resolutions. I am a firm believer in doing what you can today to get closer to your goal.
But still - I think it can be helpful to focus on certain big goals that we can return to throughout the year. We can use the calendar year as a frame for focusing on our intentions. Some people choose a word, an annual mantra to hold onto.
Last year I focused on play, and while I feel like it was definitely something I carried with me throughout the year, I feel like I need to continue to push play into my life. I want more play like relaxed Summer days of sitting in the creek with the kids, more of just being silly, more dancing, and more making myself laugh. For instance, I like to write the days of the week like this: “Sundae”, “Mondee”, and “Thor’s Day.” And I use “chix” instead of chicken, “styx” instead of sticks, and “Biznasty” instead of business. It’s dumb and pointless, but it brings little ounces of joy to the mundane.
So, what is on the deck for 2019? In five words: Community, Creativity, Confidence, Body, and House! I am going to be starting many new ventures next year. I’m pushing myself harder than ever, and I feel really excited and terrified at the bed that I am making. I think it is going to be exhilarating and probably exhausting, but I feel like it’s an all or nothing moment.
Here are my goals for 2019:
What are your goals for 2019? Do you have a “word” or a mantra?
Happy New Year!!!!
More From Spring Bird
Let’s talk about failure!
What do we do when outcomes do not meet our expectations?
Do we alter our expectations to meet the fruit of our efforts? Do we internalize perceived defeats as a challenge to double down even harder - to persist? Do we pivot and try something new - employ a different strategy?
I struggle with failure at the end of the year, when the books get balanced and the tally marks scratched into the wax of this year’s tablet. All of the hard work, effort, hopes, and dreams get boiled down into numbers that may break your heart.
How much longer can we go like this? When is a business failing, and when is it pushing through the weeds, over the bumps, and up the steep learning curves?
At times like this, all I can do is feel the fire in my belly that pushes me forward to the next day - to the next painting, blog, strategy, and hope. (Maybe this one will work.)
I say, “ Here I am - today - in this moment. This is what I have to offer the world.”
And I can feel good about that - one hundred percent satisfied. I may be losing by some metrics, but I embrace that loss if I know that I am doing work that I feel good about.
It’s at times like this that I keep thinking about the blue, weedy chicory plant that miraculously bloomed in the barren dirt patch that is my front yard, left by an excavator that disturbed the top soil and removed its greenery.
I was so happy to have this singular chicory plant find its way to my dull yard - to bring its beauty there, but to my disappointment, that night, a deer snatched the blue flower off its stem!
My spirits sank. “So much for that!” I thought, but the next day, there was a new blossom flowering on a different spot on the plant. Hope springs! Well, it got eaten during its first night, too! Then, the day after, a new bloom would arise, and it would go on like that throughout the whole Summer. “Here I am!” it would say, and then, “Now I am gone!” Then again, “Here I am!”
Eventually, a second and third chicory plant found rooting. By the end of Summer, there were three tough, weedy chicory plants in my mostly barren yard. Maybe this Summer the three plants will give rise to a few more. And maybe after several Summers, there would be more than enough chicory plants blooming in my front yard that I will not be able to refer to it as barren anymore, and maybe then there will be so many that we won’t mind losing some to the deer.
What if we approach each day as praxis - in which we make intentional choices, repeatedly with the goal of getting closer to making our life a work of art?
Both of my kids have been playing the violin from age five, and since they are learning via the Suzuki method, I read about Suzuki’s method in his book: Nurtured by Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education
In his book, Suzuki makes the argument that every child can learn to play the violin if they practice. And while learning to play the violin is indeed wonderful in and of itself, Suzuki further claims that the practice of learning actually leads to developing beautiful human beings. My kids were taught by their teachers that practicing the violin is not something you have to do, but it is something that you get to do. Also that in learning to play the violin, you learn how you learn. Each person learns differently and at their own pace. Within the Suzuki method, you must keep going, however slowly, with the intention of improving - even at smallest intervals and most definitely after repeated trials and failures.
“To make a resolution and act accordingly is to live with hope. There may be difficulties and hardships, but not disappointment or despair if you follow the path steadily. Do not hurry. This is a fundamental rule. If you hurry and collapse or tumble down, nothing is achieved. DO not rest in your efforts; this is another fundamental rule. Without stopping, without haste, carefully taking a step at a time forward will surely get you there.”
― Shinichi Suzuki, Nurtured by Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education
I find so much hope and solace in knowing that being careful and intentional is the best course. Nothing happens overnight - even when it seems like it does for others. We don’t lose weight or learn a new language quickly. We can’t sew a quilt or write a book overnight, but we can choose a life of praxis in which we are thoughtful in how we carve out time to do the things that we really want to do.
We make time to intentionally journal, meditate, cook a delicious meal, walk our dogs, breathe, or sketch. Doing these things everyday - or most days- becomes the rock we roll up the hill. When we concentrate on doing them and reflect on them afterwards, we begin to notice how we are changed by our actions. We become better at drawing, running, or cooking, or maybe we notice how much we have learned about our dogs after dozens of dozens of walks. These seemingly small practices are actually sacred moments brought to us by sacred choices. You don’t have to practice, you get to.
I know this method of Mr. Suzuki works because I get to listen to my kids play their violins every day. I hear how they have developed, how they know books and books of songs like the backs of their hands, and while sometimes they drag their feet to practice ( it can still feel like have to), once the violin is in position and they begin to move the bow across the strings, they sound like I get to. Maybe they also know something of the commitment and intention that they have practiced these years can be applied to anything new that they want to make part of their lives. If they don’t know that now, I am hoping they will be able to understand that when they are olds. For now, I am certain that there bodies sure know it. Their fingers, their chins, their breath, and their wrists know praxis well.
When we choose to look at our life as a practice and each day as an opportunity to try again, we continue to grow and evolve as humans. Now if this same praxis is applied to practicing our creativity - to infusing each day with practicing - pushing - evolving our creative selves - of continuing when we are stuck, what would be possible for us?
What do you practice? What would you like to begin learning or incorporate into your praxis of life?
PS I encourage anyone interested in educational philosophy to get their hands on Nurtured by Love. It will be life changing. I am definitely planning on reading it again and again!
Anna Lentz, artist and writer, blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.
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