When is taking time to pause more productive than relentless action?
These last couple of weeks have been intense-- creatively, mentally, spiritually, physically, nationally, globally--really in every way.
And I’m tired. I feel spent, worn, and crispy.
I don’t like to complain because I am not doing actual hard work like digging ditches, managing a classroom of kids, or enduring grueling commutes. What’s more, I am actually being fed by my work. Still, there are moments when I feel empty, dull-minded, and sluggish.
I know that a moment of rest would bring fresh air and new perspectives to my work, but I have this compulsive, workaholic part of me that tells me that either I do not deserve a break, or maybe that the rest period would not feel as good as getting another thing crossed off my list. I think that there lies the crux. I need to switch my motivation for doing the work from crossing something off a list to feeling grateful to do something with thoughtful intention. Being able to be present to my work is absolutely dependent on having breaks from it.
Furthermore, I know that my work suffers from not taking a break. I know that I can get trapped in a tunnel vision world and that resting, getting out of the work, would mean gaining perspective. But I am so willful and stubborn I judge myself for wanting rest. I try to schedule it but there always seems to be another thing to do.
Right now I’m caught between wrapping up a couple big projects and birthing some new exciting ones that are begging for my attention. As a result it is very difficult to focus on what needs to be done today -- in this moment.
So, I am very much still learning how to make rest part of my routine. Any advice out there? I try to get to a movie now and then. I like to walk in the woods and pet my cats.
Do you feel it’s a challenge to build rest into your routine? Do have guilt associated with rest?
What’s your favorite way to recharge your creative energy?
Those of you who are subscribers to Woolgathering might remember my piece in the Fall Issue about stuffed pumpkin. For those of you who aren't subcribers or don't remember, the following is an excerpt:
"A few years ago, we heard about stuffing a pumpkin on an NPR piece about Thanksgiving foods. The recipe, French inspired was developed by Dorie Greenspan for Around My French Table. This elegant dish involves scooping out the seeds of a pumpkin and filling it with stale bread, garlic, bacon, gruyere cheese, thyme, nutmeg, and heavy cream, but you can insert whatever ingredients you have in your fridge like other vegetables, greens, sausage, or rice. Once stuffed, you return the top hat of the pumpkin and bake the entire pumpkin until the squash meat is soft. The outside skin gets a deep orange and is soft and pokable. You then scoop out the gooey innards with a metal spoon scraping the insides to retrieve the pumpkin flesh along with the cheese, bacon, and cream.
It’s delicious and comforting yet elegant and special. For those of you preferring savory to sweet, this is a brilliant way to enjoy pumpkin. Furthermore, it’s a dish that encapsulates quite literally the bounty of fall while embodying the spirit of the season so perfectly. At the very least, it’s an alternative way to consume pumpkin in a more elevated way as opposed to the myriads of products that pumpkin has found its way into such as: cereals, coffee, and just about every other processed product on market shelves. But there is something more than a delicious meal, here. There is something magical about a hollow pumpkin, or perhaps more accurately, something magical in its ability to transform into something else. "
This past Saturday, after a day of soccer games in the cold and wind, we warmed up the kitchen, ourselves, and our spirits by stuffing two homegrown pumpkins, plucked from the kids' fairy garden. This is the actual recipe!
Below, is our interpretation.
The kids planted the pumpkin seeds at the beginning of June. Pat pulled these two from their shriveled vines in the middle of September. They were the first two pumpkins harvested, and we have four more in storage for either pies or more stuffed pumpkin!
We cut the tops off, just as you would to carve a pumpkin. Don't throw them away! Then, scoop out the seeds. (Keep the seeds, too, if you want to roast them with olive oil salt and spices. )
Once the pumpkins are emptied, season the insides of the pumpkins and the caps with salt and pepper.
When doing community art, you build community by surveying a community's assets. Instead of focusing on the deficits, a community sums up all that they have to offer one another -- their knowledge, skills, spaces, gardens, businesses, artists, etc. From there, the community can create solutions for any needs they might have.
These last two years of developing my own business have been fraught with many life lessons, trials, and tribulations. It wasn’t until recently that I have realized (through the help of podcasts and other wise - minded souls) that I have been operating from my own lack instead of my assets. I have been stuck in my deficits.
When I began two years ago, I was in need of healing. For a variety of reasons I was angry, wounded, depleted, and creatively starved. I was desperate, eager, impatient and ready to begin. This neediness meant that I was expecting certain outcomes from my work, which was largely unfocused and exploratory.
I was reacting to the years of taking care of kids, teaching others art, and looking enviously over the shoulders of students wishing I could be making art instead of teaching it. Although I did make art whenever and wherever I could, I felt starved. It wasn’t enough. So, this is where I located my creative business, in this hunger to create -- this desperation to feed my soul.
So, that is what I did. I have been gorging and indulging myself in creative projects (night and day), but there was still on emptiness, a sense that something wasn’t right.
I was still feeling the lack -- lack of sales, lack of time to do all of the things that I wanted to do, and lack of purpose. It felt self-indulgent. There was a sense of entitlement, too. I felt like I was putting in all of this hard work, I should get something in return -- sales, attention, or a pat on the back, and when I did receive these things, it didn’t feel deserved. Even though, I intellectually knew that nobody owed me anything, I was stuck in the lack, the hunger for some reward.
I own my sense of entitlement. I own my hunger, but it is also good to step back and see the expansive view of our culture. We are raised as Americans, in our glorious capitalist society to want - to yearn. To be reared in consumerism means that we are only satiated from external sources. We do not look for our own internal assets. We are taught to dwell in lack, because living with a sense of lack means that we will be consumers for life. The fact that what our soul truly yearns for can not ever be bought ensures us that we will continually consume, forever in search for the thing that will take the hunger away. We live in the lack, because it’s good for big business.
So, I began to wonder what would happen if I operated from my assets. It turns out I have a lot to offer. (We all do!) Instead of asking what the world owes me, I look for what I can offer.
One such offering is my belief in creativity. I believe that we are all creative people. Creativity is a huge part of our humanity. Like anything, creativity has to be practiced, developed, and nurtured. When we have creativity in our tool belt, we can literally create the worlds that we want to live in. We don’t have to buy our worlds, we can make them ourselves. It is truly a superpower that big businesses would love for us to forget. So, I have begun by sharing my own creative process in hopes that my experiences inspire and give courage to others to make and do their wildest dreams.
Moreso, I want to offer further support (to be determined) that will help all of us to do more of what our soul calls us to do. If we all pay attention to that voice inside, our lives will be enriched as well as all of the lives around us.
I want to spread the love that I feel when I make art. I want others to feel the wholeness that I feel. I want everyone to realize their creative selves, because it's in the creativity that we can heal ourselves, heal others, reshape and rethink our worlds, and be full of joy and wonder.
So that’s it! Let’s make and do our creativity until the cows come home!
Thank you for listening!
You are here! So, go forth and create!!
This Summer we got caught up in a beautiful collaborative web at the Renaissance Faire. The Faire's collaborative webs were strung between trees with simple, white string. Visitors and Renaissance residents tied and wove leaves, sticks, pieces of yarn, lost pacifiers, and broken bits to the webs. Over the course of the Summer, the webs caught more and more magic. It was a delight to experience, and immediately I knew that I wanted to try something similar at Spring Bird. So, this past Monday, with the help of cousin Austen, we strung up a web, and I tied on its first bits of magic. I am hoping that over the course of the next months, it will collect more and more pieces of wonder as it becomes a collaborative forest art project! I imagine feathers, notes, twigs, pinecones, and more tied up in the web. Next time you come to Spring Bird, make sure you come and find and add to it!
This week, I’ve been thinking about how sometimes the stories we tell about ourselves and the stories we have heard about ourselves can be limiting. Even worse, the stories we tell ourselves can lead to our getting stuck, like those black dotted squares in Candy Land.
There is great power in owning our stories and rooting our identity in them. Our stories grow in power (for better and for worse) the more we repeat them. I have stories about how I became an artist, how I act as a mother, my role as the youngest sibling, or my relationship to work. It feels secure to know who I am and how to present myself to others. But all of stories, unless they are like the film Roshomon, only tell one version. They are confined to one perspective. What’s more, if we get locked into a story that happens to be limiting, it could become damaging to us.
For instance, I am struggling with the story titled: “I am terrible at marketing story”. I am wondering what would happen if I start telling myself a different story. Maybe, I can write one that goes like this, “I am intelligent and creative, and willing to learn and experiment with marketing. This could be a way to expand my creativity while growing my business.”
The first story might be true, but it certainly doesn’t help me grow my business or get better at marketing.
The first time I experienced this power of changing the story was as a freshman in college. I had matriculated with a sense of dread that I was going to gain those freshman 15. You remember those 15 lbs. from beer, late night pizza, and cafeteria soft serve? They would likely be the first 15 on my way to being an overweight and unfit adult. I had been telling myself this story since I was a chubby child. In fact, my story was informed by another that I apparently asked for a diet coke at age 3. The implication is that I have been weight conscious since a toddler. Another story that was repeated while growing up was that our family joked about being a “fat family”. So, as a result of these negative stories, I didn’t exercise, hated running, and drank a lot of diet coke.
Then, a few weeks into being a first year, while walking through the arched doorway of my dorm, it hit me that I didn’t have to believe that story. I challenged myself to start running. Soon, I was attending fitness classes with friends and eating salads for lunch. In fact, I didn’t gain those freshman 15, and I brought jogging and fitness with me into adulthood.
I realize this sounds super obvious. Maybe everyone has moments like this as we take our first steps into adulthood, but still, I testify that reshaping your stories is a simple powerful tool.
Another story that I’ve been thinking about lately is the story that I am too emotional. This is a story I have heard my whole life. I am easy cryer. Not just at movies and weddings, but at work, at school, and in public. My tears are easy to come by, but instead of feeling like my emotions are a weakness, a betrayal, or a vulnerability, I am choosing to look at them as a superpower.
Listen, my emotions make me feel more alive, better able to be empathetic, and more expressive in my art, My emotions help me to connect with others, too. So I plan on telling my new story of me as emotional superhero on repeat until I have rewritten the whole book, and new patterns have formed in my brain.
When rewriting our stories, It’s good to question the source. So, I might wonder why is being emotional considered a weakness? Where does this idea even come from? Well, that’s another blog post, but realize that if a story is keeping you stuck, try rewriting it and see what happens. Of course there is the danger of ignoring a true story in favor of a superficial one. Superficial stories will also keep us stuck, and they have the potential of hurting others. Unfortunately they are much more difficult to recognize because in seeing the true story we might have to recognize our own pain, but there is hope in being able to incorporate that pain into a new story that involves healing.
Have you had experience with rewriting your stories? or getting stuck in a story?
These last couple of years have been an experiment in prioritizing the things that I love to do --- really focusing on the things that fuel me as an artist and a person in this world. I’m a little obsessed with the question of what would happen if everyone pushed themselves to do whatever gave them the most joy. What would happened if we put our hearts on our to-do list?
I don’t mean erasing the things that we all have to do, but instead grounding our choices in our heart so that we look very critically at where we are putting our energy and make adjustments when we are wasting energy on thoughts and actions that do not serve us. For instance, I know that I can waste too much time on video clips, in comparing myself to others on social media, or in procrastinating doing the things that I don’t want to do. Being more efficient in where I choose to put my energy, makes it easier to to the things that I really and truly want to do.
I have heard from many wise people that if there is something that you are aching to do, find a way to do it. It does not matter how small the start, just put that dream on your to-do list.
That might mean, you make a note in your phone, record a voice memo of that idea, start a journal devoted to your dream project, or make a mind map (one of my favorites). Don’t be afraid to just say or write it. It has to start somewhere, and keeping it in your heart prevents action. So, put it on your list!
Here are some ideas that are nagging at me to be added to the list. I feel afraid to even say them. So, I will write them here for my first step:
Okay, now you can hold me accountable for taking action on these ideas. I think my next step is to make some mind maps brainstorming possibilities. Maybe after writing about them, I can create a more focused action plan--lots more list making! Your heart’s desire can be small things - like: hosting movie nights, wearing red shoes more often, learning origami, writing snail mail, or starting a book club. There are infinite ways to put our hearts into the world that simultaneously enrich it and feed our souls.
Listen, we owe it to ourselves and to the world to keep excavating our heart’s desires and putting them out there. After all, that is why we are here.
Anna Lentz, artist, writer, and creativity coach who blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.