Earlier today I tried to write a blog post. Progress was slow, painful, and frustrating. Finally, I gave up.
This is not like me to give up.
Writing is not a smooth process for me, despite the enjoyment it gives. Most days I procrastinate, but eventually push my way into writing. I begin slowly, fishing around for those slippery starting words. I jump all over my ideas as I write my draft, and have to rearrange sentences and paragraphs until I find an easy flow. This is my process, and I always get there to the finished piece.
Today I feel like my creativity is offline. My thoughts are jumpy and disconnected. Every idea is brief, lacking a depth to play in, nothing to dig into and develop. I know I am not the first nor the last writer to experience this, but knowing it doesn’t make the experience less frustrating.
What I do know from long experience as an artist–my creativity remains intact despite today’s evidence to the contrary.
Here’s what I am going to do once this short writing-disaster post is done. I am going to read. My own words aren’t cooperating, but at least I can revel in another writer’s world.
Picture me standing knee deep in turquoise ocean waves. Bare toes, all ten, digging into the sand to keep balance. Leaning my body forward, a telescope to my eye, searching the horizon line.
I want to know what is out there, what’s beyond the range of my vision.
Writing a book has turned me into an explorer, and what I’m exploring is the edge of my creativity. How far can I push this seeming edge? How far can I expand my capabilities as writer and artist?
I’d always thought a project of several years’ length was beyond me. I’d get bored and dump it.
I was wrong. My curiosity for what is next in my book remains as bright as when I began. Not only am I curious about the book, I am curious about my creativity. It keeps changing, reaching and expanding. Every time a new idea shows up, it is something beyond what I have already done.
Helen Frankenthaler, an artist whose work inspires me, talked about not wanting to do something she already knew she could do. I feel the same way.
I don’t mean wildly leaping into complete unknown. I mean standing on what I know, reaching toward what I don’t know, combining the two, known and unknown, and experimenting.
My book project is becoming an experiment. As I complete the work in Lisa Cron’s Story Genius, my vision of the book is shifting. I see something that sits between all text and all image. Not a graphic novel, and not a standard word-only book. I am marrying my capabilities as artist and writer, and challenging myself to go further than what I already know.
As yet, I have little idea where this expanding vision of my book and my capabilities is taking me. My telescope shows me only the open space at the edge that is labelled “here there be dragons.”
I am curious about dragons. I hear they can fly, and some can be ridden. I hear they guard treasure and need to be coaxed to share. I hear they are made of fire. I hear they were invented by someone like me.
I want to write a dragon of a book. A book made of fire and treasure. A book that takes flight and I need to hang on and fly with it, the ride of my life. Guessing I may need asbestos pants in order to stick my seat. I’ll find some.
In the meantime, every day I learn something new about the edges of my book and my creativity. Today it is realizing my interest in my book remains firm, and this makes me happy. Today it is discovering my creativity is capable of handling both short and long term projects, and this makes me happy too.
Today I push out the far edge, and place my new knowledge there. Step forward and stand on the new edge of my creativity, lean forward and balance. Put the telescope to my eye, and see where my vision takes me next. There is an amazing dragon of a book out there, and it’s mine.
I’m playing with Lucy Bellwood’s book 100 Demon Dialogues. I keep going back to cartoon number 83. In the cartoon, Lucy says, “I think I’ve figured it out: you’re more afraid of success than you are of failure.” Her demon, who is trying to hide in a box, says, “I’m afraid of EVERYTHING.”
I am afraid of success. When I succeed in my art or my writing, I am not sure what to do. What should happen next I can never figure out.
Here is one example. When someone offers me praise, I don’t seem to hear it. The words don’t go all the way in. I feel happy, briefly. I smile, say thank you, glad you enjoy it. Then I feel uncomfortable and need to escape.
It makes me sad to realize I am unable to wholly accept a kind comment. It makes me feel there’s something wrong with me, that I can’t celebrate something I have created when it touches and connects with someone else.
Weird thing is, this is one of the main reasons I write and draw, to create that heart-to-heart connection.
It’s easy, in my studio, to open my heart and be vulnerable as I create. My studio is a safe place, I am alone with my work, and I trust myself to go as deep as the work requires. If I don’t get there the first attempt, or second or third, I keep going until I reach the feeling I want. I’ve done this long enough, I trust what shows up and trust I am able.
Put me in the situation of accepting praise face to face, and I am in fear. Someone connects with my writing or drawing, it evokes something for them, they appreciate the experience, and they want me to know my work succeeded in touching them.
My deepest success, and yet I am afraid to open my heart to this person and feel what they are offering me. Instead I feel naked and vulnerable because someone has seen the feelings I place in my work. How ironic when someone really sees my work and connects heart to heart, I want to run the other way.
My deepest success and my deepest fear. I got this wrong. I’m not afraid of success. I’m afraid of being seen and connecting at my truest self.
I am an artist and a writer who creates heart to heart. I know no other way to create. I refuse to allow any kind of fear to stop me.
Next time someone praises my work, I need to remember who I am in my studio. Trusting, open-hearted, and reaching for connection as many times as it takes.
It’s all grey cloud and wind outside today. I saw the first leaves fall from the aspens this morning. More than fall. They were pulled, snatched by the wind, tossed to the ground before they could ripen.
I’m not ready for bare branches. I want those brilliant, glorious golds, reds, and oranges shining against the sky. Then yes, Wind, take the leaves as your toys and let the trees rest.
I am happy to be inside my warm studio today. Like the wind, I have a new toy to play with, a book of course.
Yesterday afternoon I read 100 Demon Dialogues by Lucy Bellwood. I read slowly. Not only read, but looked. These are one-page drawings. Lucy is a cartoonist.
I love this book. I love Lucy’s take on the inner critic, and how she doesn’t push it away (which is my preferred method of interacting with the demon in my pocket). Instead, through her cartoons, she and her demon have a conversation.
I know I sound surprised. That’s because I used to do that and mostly ended up either angry or depressed. The conversations were battles, and my pocket demon won. However she didn’t win the war. I continue drawing, continue writing, continue finding ways to create things I love and enjoy.
In her cartoons, Lucy doesn’t see this relationship with her inner demon as a battle. Instead, they alternately talk, argue, discuss, yell, lay down ultimatums, and hug. Yes, there are hugs and compassion, both for herself and her demon.
This is new to me. My pocket demon is a part of me I have fought with throughout my life, not only in my creativity. I have battled, ignored, silenced without listening, trampled, and left her behind as often as possible. I’ve never thought to have compassion for my pocket demon, much less hug her.
My pocket demon does not ever stop trying to get me to hear her. I know, in her own weird way, she is attempting to help me and keep me safe from what she perceives as dangers.
Maybe I am doing as the wind, tossing something away before it ripens.
Maybe I need to do as Lucy does, and listen. Listening costs me nothing and I don’t have to agree with what I hear.
I know my pocket demon mirrors my emotions, usually fear. As Julia Cameron told me throughout her book The Artist’s Way, emotions are information. I am a master at hiding things from myself, especially emotions. Maybe I should listen, hear what my pocket demon has to say, and find out what is going on in the background that I am not seeing.
Honestly, not sure I want to.
Which tells me something is coming to the surface that I need to know.
Here’s an idea. Use Lucy’s book to talk with my pocket demon. Flip through the pages, find a cartoon that connects with my heart. Oops, all of them, but let’s do this one at a time.
Choose that one cartoon, and start writing. Have a conversation with my pocket demon, and let fly. No one else needs to read this. Toss the writing afterwards, if I want to, or maybe keep it because it’s the seed for a future blog post.
I can do this.
Pocket demon, sweetie, we are about to get cozy.
Thank you, Lucy, for sharing and showing me something I needed to see.
Julia Cameron’s books are rich with ideas on working with pocket demons aka the inner critic. I frequently use Supplies: A Troubleshooting Guide For Creative Difficulties, Penguin Books, 2003. https://juliacameronlive.com/
Kim Piper Werker’s book Make It Mighty Ugly, Sasquatch Books, 2014, is another resource loaded with ideas. My copy of Kim’s book is dog eared, underlined, highlighted, and stuck full of post it notes. https://www.kimwerker.com/
When all else fails, chocolate, good music, a comfy chair, and my latest fiction read.
My Mom worked at home. Three children, a husband on shift work, and a big house to care for. I remember her sitting at the kitchen table in the late afternoon, resting before beginning dinner preparations. Especially when my brother was a toddler roaring around the house, she looked worn through, and her day was still hours away from being finished.
She’d look at me and say, “My get-up-and-go got up and went.”
That’s exactly how I feel when I wake this morning. I had an excellent sleep, yet I feel worn out. I lie here, wondering what this is.
I don’t want to get up. I don’t want to start the day, even though my days are my own. I don’t feel like writing or drawing, unusual for me.
Wrapped and warm in my blankets, I let my mind wander, and then I understand.
I am emotionally exhausted.
I’ve been riding a roller coaster of grief and love, and it has worn me out. Worn me to the point of affecting my creativity.
My current creative projects are long ones, writing a book (years), and filling a sketchbook with drawings (months). Normally I love long projects. I enjoy the feelings of where I have been and where I am going, seeing how an idea expands, shifts, and finally fulfills itself and me.
Today, long is more than I can handle.
An idea pops in. How about shotgun creativity? Get the idea, aim, fire, done. Except, generally, firing a shotgun requires dealing with the resulting mess. Clean up is necessary. I live in a rural area. I know this.
How about creativity that is like laughter? Sudden. Surprising. A joyful explosion of fun and play. Nothing afterwards but feeling good.
Yes, this is my kind of creativity. Unexpected creativity that is joy.
I get out of bed and start my day. Eventually I am here at my studio table with my Mickey Mouse pencils and stack of loose leaf paper, writing.
Interesting that my get-up-and-go is back, and I know why.
I started exactly where I was, recognized and allowed my feelings to be what they were. I let my thoughts and imagination, and then my words, run where they would, no limits, no expectations. Whatever showed up was fine with me. With all this space to play, ideas showed up—shotgun creativity, and creativity like laughter.
Yesterday I was with friends, beginning a new group art project. We are each filling a sketchbook for the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project 2019.
The time spent was perfect fun, relaxing, inspiring, and energizing.
Mostly I work and play alone in my studio, and I choose this. I need and love my quiet alone time, in order to see and hear the ideas coming through, in order to draw and write. I also need and love time with friends and fellow creators.
Here is what I love about creating with my friends.
The conversation and ideas and actions that flow are always unexpected. We don’t create in a straight line. Instead, our ideas are starbursts. One of us offers a comment or question, and off we go in every direction.
We are not one plus one plus one equals three, although we can be, and have been, if needed. No, we are one plus one plus one equals cookie.
Laughter is frequent, as is opening our hearts and learning the shape of our souls.
What always fascinates me is this. We begin at the exact same point, but the flow from each of us is unique in theme and look and final destination. It does not matter that we all hear the same conversation, begin with similar art materials, play together in the same room.
It is our individual histories and life experiences, our separate needs and wants and focus that shape the vision each of us sees. This is what sparks the curiosity that arises to follow a specific path in creating. This is also what creates such fertile ground when we are together.
Together we are a garden, wild and joyful with growth, weeds fully included. Watered with tea (double chai yesterday) and lattes, nourished by sandwiches and soup and goodies. Held close in the sunny heat of friendship and shared creativity.
Nothing better than one plus one plus one equals cookie.
I learned something last week. For the past nine months I’ve been trying to go backwards.
I’ve been trying to imagine my Dad back to life.
Impossible. And I have caused myself all sorts of pain because of this desperate need to go backwards in my life and in my Dad’s life.
There are many things I can do backwards. Spelling. Counting. Swimming. Skating. Skipping rope. Dancing. Walking and even kind-of-slow-running. But I cannot get life to move backwards. Not going to happen.
I need to grieve forwards. Sounds funny, I know. It actually makes me laugh when I say this to myself. Laughter feels like grieving forwards.
Realizing what I’ve been doing makes a difference in how I feel. Something has eased within me. I’m not going forward, but at least the backward pull has stopped, and that is an improvement.
Yes, Dad, I was trying to head in the wrong direction, backwards. A mistake made out of a long love, and an unwillingness to stop seeing you here in front of me.
Dad does not want me sad. He loves me too much for that. I can feel him gently putting his hands on my shoulders and turning me around, so now he stands behind me and my life stands before me.
I don’t want to do this. I am crying, but I feel Dad behind me and there is strength in that feeling. Love, and a kind of steadiness I had lost. He has my back, and I can make the first tentative steps forward again. He won’t let me fall.
In this post:
The excellent, imaginative book I was reading last week, that sparked my aha, is Lost & Found by Brooke Davis, Penguin Canada Books, 2016. I love the three main characters, a seven-year-old girl and two seniors who create themselves as family, take a road trip to find the girl’s mother (who has left her behind), and emphatically refuse to be anyone other than who they are. I keep thinking about them. I want them to be happy. Thanks, Brooke, for writing this. https://www.facebook.com/brookedavisauthor
Brooke also wrote an article, very much worth reading, about her experience of grieving. A shortened version is included at the end of the book, and the full version is at www.textjournal.com.au/oct12/davis.htm
Yesterday my husband and I drove to our northern home. Today I sit at my other studio work table, in front of a view that includes aspens and pines. There are thunderclouds low over the hills. I am north again, and will be until next March.
I am the opposite of the migrating birds I see in the sky. They are leaving for the warm hug of weather in the south. I want the cold, snowy Winter. I want the clear, crisp air and the crackle of frost and ice under my boots.
I want to smell snow coming, and witness the first snowflakes fall from a heavy, grey sky. I want to feel them melt on my cheek, so gentle a touch, present and gone in the same instant. The first snow is always fleeting, Winter hesitant, touching the farthest edge of Fall.
I love the change of seasons. I love feeling with all of my body the movement of time. I love how each season stands forward in its fullness, then moves back a step at a time as the next season comes forward. A dance, step and step, forward and back, each season partnering the ones before and after.
I know I am a Summer Girl. It’s true. I love Summer best. Warm sun and cool shade, iced tea with lemon, long slow evenings and a bright moon. Something in me saddens at leaving Summer behind.
Yet that same something is anticipating with joy the touch of those first ephemeral snowflakes.
All seasons are sweet to me because of the change, each season precious because of its particular joys.
The seasons dance around me, dance within me. I would have it no other way.