There is a scene in ‘Aladdin’, one of my favourite Disney movies, that frequently rises in my mind.
Genie, in the shape of a large bee, is buzzing in Aladdin’s ear, “Be-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e yourself!” Aladdin is preparing to definitely not be himself as he talks with Princess Jasmine. In his mind, being himself is not good enough.
I understand this.
Much of my life I have been sure I am not good enough. I no longer believe this. Thus, my New Year’s Un-Resolution.
That’s it. Two words.
This is not the usual New Year’s resolution. I am not looking to improve myself. What I am doing is uncovering my authentic self.
Be Myself. All day long I ask, is this my choice or someone else’s? Is this my belief, expectation, value, judgment, idea, or someone else’s? What is true for me?
I use words to ask myself the question. I look for the answer in how I feel.
My heart tells me yes, this is me, this is mine. This feels right and true to me. Or no, not mine. This feels wrong and false to me.
I learn from everything and everyone around me.
Sometimes in the learning, I take on things that are not true for me.
Sometimes, it takes time for me to understand that a belief, expectation, value, judgment, or idea does not fit me. That is okay. Trying things out and experiencing what happens may be what I need. Sometimes I must know what I don’t want in order to know what I do want.
So here I am, eleven days into 2018, paying attention to who I really am and discovering what feels true to me. So far, mostly what I have discovered is that I have un-learning and un-choosing to do.
The ‘un’ in front of ‘resolution’ was a clue. Yeah, missed that.
No worries. Being Myself is a work in progress. I have all year long.
On my studio work table is a stack of paper. One hundred and thirteen pages. It’s my Nanowrimo draft.
I finish writing on Monday, zipping past the 50,000 word goal by 469 words. Hooray! I have that magic purple bar that says WINNER shining on my Nanowrimo dashboard, and my winner certificate is taped to the studio wall.
I give myself Tuesday and Wednesday as reading days, since my reading time has been eaten by writing time all through November. I love reading as much as writing, and I am noticing a certain inner grumpiness every time I walk past the books that are waiting for me.
Today I am thinking about the last four weeks.
Something unusual happened during my mass quantity of writing.
I enjoyed the process. I rarely struggled. I am amazed at this. And I am wondering what I did differently this fourth time through Nanowrimo.
I’ve made it past the finish line all four times, so winning is not different.
Thing is, I feel like a different writer.
I am a different writer. I am not fussing over my first draft. I am not criticizing every word. If I don’t have the exact right word or phrase, I pause for a bit. If it does not come, I substitute something close to what I want and continue on. I know I will come back later with the right fix.
This is not how I used to write. I wrote slowly. I struggled. Things had to be perfect or near-perfect the first time through. I was not taking in the meaning of ‘draft’.
What a relief this is. I am no longer afraid of not getting my words right.
I have won something more than my Nanowrimo draft reaching 50,000 words.
I have won space for myself when I write. I have space to explore, try something out, not like it, and change it. I have space to get an idea down and find the right words later. I have space to relax and breathe and enjoy the process of a first draft. I have space to enjoy my imagination.
When I am being Artist rather than Writer, I work with the pastel in one hand and the eraser in the other. I am constantly moving between one and the other, using the eraser as one of my drawing tools. I have no difficulty editing my drawings.
I get it. Here is the core of why I am a different writer. I am finally comfortable using editing as one of my writing tools. I am finally trusting my writing process and myself as a writer. The words will come, if not on the first pass, then the second or third or fourth.
Last night I have a brilliant idea for today’s post.
It is the middle of the night when the idea shows up. I am cozy and warm in bed. I do not get up and write it down. (You know where this is going, right?)
This morning I look but—poof—the idea is nowhere to be found.
This is why I keep lists, a sketchbook, two cork boards, and pads of sticky notes. Life is a busy place and ideas show up any time. If I catch and write them down, I have them for later use. If I don’t, they vanish.
I have this theory the vanished ideas move on to another, more immediately receptive, creative heart.
Ideas want to share. They are, of course, looking for a home and a partner who will love them and help them grow into something interesting and maybe even beautiful.
When I write an idea down, take notes, sketch a picture or plan, the idea knows it has come to the right place. There is connection, curiosity, the energy of anticipation. There is a spark that, given time and attention, becomes full passionate creation.
I have loads of ideas in my sketchbook. More than that, I have entries about other creators’ books, songs, movies, and artwork. Quotes that interest me. Questions I am wondering about. All of which have me curious. Something in each is the seed of other ideas, a jumping-off place to something new.
Sketchbooks are the pathway of my creative heart. Turn the pages of my sketchbooks, and you see the pattern of my days. Here is my cabinet of curiosities, collected over years of drawing and writing.
I used to worry about ideas disappearing, my heart forgetting even though I’d made my notes.
No worries any more. I have discovered the ideas I’ve recorded, then left behind, show up again. Expressed differently perhaps, or linked to another idea. No matter. Here they are again, ready to play.
I am always delighted to see them. We greet each other as old friends. We have things to share, experiences and wisdom that did not exist in our connection the first time we met. I trust life, that now is the right time to move these ideas into creation. Now we are old enough to begin.
Last night’s brilliant idea will show up again. I know it. Sooner or later, there it will be. If not in my creative heart, then in the heart of another. There’s always lots of ideas to go around, and lots of hearts to share them. And that gives me joy.
In this post:
I tried keeping a note pad and pen by the bed, to catch the middle-of-the-night inspirations. No use. Results of writing in the pitch black are illegible. And my husband protests a lamp turned on at two in the morning.
I’m sitting in my dining room, on a camp chair, my laptop and papers and pens on our camp table. My iphone is tuned to Jazz24 for background music. The bedroom down the hall holds an air mattress and bedding, clock radio on an upturned box. My son’s bedroom downstairs has identical furnishings.
The dining room window is open to a warm breeze, sun, blue sky. I can hear the hummingbirds talking. They are nesting in the white lilac next to the house. Last year they were in the holly tree at the far corner of the yard. I won’t see the babies learning to fly this year. I won’t be here.
This home is pretty much empty. Everything was moved to storage this past weekend. I have a week of camping out in my house, and then on to the new house-home-studio. (Excited? Yes!!!)
I am finding it interesting how little I need to be comfortable. And interesting how the floors and walls have become a kind of furniture.
I am thinking, these past few days, about doing long work. The big projects that take time to come together and mature. This home project is a big one.
Becoming an artist and writer have been big projects. More than big. More like continual. Can’t help it. I keep discovering new things to play with.
In all the packing, junking out, giving away, I uncovered a box full of old morning pages journals. Pages written when I began this I-am-an-artist journey.
Most of these journals I fed to the woodstove. Letting go of old beliefs, angst (there was lots of that), limits I’d built around my creativity, limits I’d built around me.
I read a few pages here and there, as I fed them to the fire.
What I noticed—the Cat in these pages is no longer me. Someone else’s story. The incremental shifts really do add up to change in a good way.
As much as I love creating, it was a battle for me at first. I had to fight my way past massive fear and anxiety. Fear of making mistakes or a mess. Fear of making bad art. Whatever bad art is, I never did define it. Anxiety over wasting art supplies (read ‘money’) because I’d screwed up a drawing. Fear I was fooling myself; I wasn’t really an artist but no one had told me. All fear.
What saved me was love. When I fought past the fear, I loved creating. Loved the ideas that grew. Loved the surprises that arrived in my drawings. Loved the inspiration sharing with other artists of all disciplines. Loved what I discovered about myself through the creative process. All love.
My love of creating was bigger than my fear of screwing up and making bad art and being a fool.
Inside the front cover of a journal, ten months after graduating from art school, I wrote notes to myself:
“You have to give the drawing everything, all of it, and now.”
“There must be something rattling in the brain and trying to fall out of the pen.”
“Okay Cat, tell me what I’m keeping out of these pages?”
“Imagine what an artist I could be with a heart fully open and aware (this terrifies me).”
“Do the long work, and trust.”
I read these words here, today, and realize despite the daily fear and anxiety, there was wisdom coming through. I did the long work. I trusted. And now here I stand. Artist and Writer.
I held onto the love in my creating as a life line. Love gave me a path through the fear.
Love helped me trust there was a way through.
Sometimes, when my love even now is not big enough, I borrow love from other creators. I play recordings of Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron reading from their books. I randomly pull books from my studio library and leaf through other artists’ creativity. I leave books open by my easel and on my writing table. Courage and determination are contagious. Others’ images and words hold and inspire me while I walk through my fear and into creation.
During my final year of art school, I borrowed love from poet Pablo Neruda. His words fueled my graduating body of work. Imagine writing poems to a tomato, a pair of trousers, a watch. I borrowed his idea, drawing a pile of carefully folded laundry, a teacup and spoon, a pear and knife, my favourite fuchsia-coloured brocade vest.
On that same front inside cover of the journal, I’d copied some of his poetry.
“The days aren’t discarded or collected, they are bees
that burned with sweetness or maddened
the sting; the struggle continues,
the journeys go and come between honey and pain.
No, the net of the years doesn’t unweave: there is no net.
They don’t fall drop by drop from a river: there is no river.
I have a home of thirty years cleared out and sold, all in the space of the last four weeks.
Whew and wow.
I’ve been thinking about doing this for a few years. And suddenly it is now. Let’s quit talking and do it. And we have. Done.
I feel lighter. Excited and exhausted both. There is a new horizon out there. Can’t quite see it yet, but I can feel it. It feels like home.
After thirteen years of seasonal moving between two places that didn’t truly feel like home, I am approaching something that does. How strange that I don’t know what it looks like or exactly where it is, yet the feeling is clear and certain. I feel my feet on the ground. I feel the path in front of me.
Some small part of me is trying to not trust this, saying ‘scary’. The biggest part of me is saying ‘This feels right, feels good. I trust this.’
Trust. A blessing gained from growing into my creative self, trusting the artist-me who knows who she is and what she wants. I am now all artist-me. Not only creating image and word. Creating my life.
I remember doing Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way tasks of clearing out and making room. I’m not sure she meant a whole house, but then again, she might have. I’m laughing, thinking how I’ve taken task number eight in week six to the extreme.
The task says, “Clearing: Any new changes in your home environment? Make some.”
Make some changes? Have I ever!
In this post:
Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way, 2002 Edition, Tarcher/Putnam. http://juliacameronlive.com/ The clearing tasks are on pages 90 and 114. Julia connects clearing out to creativity on pages 83, 197, and 198. “You’re either losing your mind—or gaining your soul. Life is meant to be an artist date. That’s why we were created.’’ Page 198.
I’d say the quote from my last post applies even more so.
I’m sitting in a rowboat. The boat is all wood. We, the boat and I, are floating on a deep pond. A fir and cedar forest rises beyond. The water is rimmed by a grey rock beach. The boat and I are still.
I watch a small, black and white cat step from the forest, across the beach, and into the water.
The cat swims, and then dives deep. ‘I didn’t know cats could do that,’ I say.
I can see her, as though I am under water too. The cat catches a large fish in her mouth, swims back to the surface, and returns to the beach.
She eats the fish. She looks very satisfied with herself.
I write my morning pages after breakfast. Purple ink today. It is snowing again. The thermometer says -10 degrees Celsius. The forecast says expect the same through this coming weekend. Hmmm. My eyes are beginning to get hungry for green.
I write out my dream. I hear my voice again. ‘I didn’t know cats could do that.’ I again feel my astonishment at something unexpected and new. Since when do cats not only swim, but swim underwater?
Tigers swim, I write in my pages. So do jaguars. Why not small, black and white cats?
Why not me? I am Cat. I love swimming, and my dad taught me to dive. I know how to dive cleanly and well.
If I dive deep, I will catch the words. I will catch my book.
I sit very still. My pen has stopped moving. Exactly what Natalie says not to do.
The dream is talking to me. I start writing again, to catch the words.
This second draft I am creating—I need to dive deep. The dream says I’ve only been paddling along the surface, even staying safely on the beach in some parts of the story.
If I want my book to be fully realized, and I do, I can’t stay on the surface. The book isn’t here. The words and feelings I want are down below.
The pond is deep and clear and full of flashing, silver words. I love words. There is nothing to fear. I know how to swim and dive and imagine and write. I am good at all these things.
The dream says, take a breath, and dive.
The dream says, cats can do this.
Natalie Goldberg’s first rule of writing practice is ‘Keep your hand moving.’ She also says ‘Shut up and write’. I’ve invented a new writing rule for myself, ‘Shut up and dive.’ All of Natalie’s books are my favourites. You likely already know Writing Down The Bones. So go read The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life With Language, Atria Books, 2013. Really, the true secret of writing is in there. Natalie spills the beans. Thank you, Natalie, for showing me a way of being a writer, and spilling the beans. http://nataliegoldberg.com/
Last weekend I finished reading Kim Werker’s book ‘Make It Mighty Ugly’.
I love this book. I love you, Kim, for writing this book.
There are a load of reasons why I love Kim’s book. For me, the main reason–she is clearly a kindred spirit when it comes to creativity.
On page 116 she describes an aspect of her creative process. This is the first time, since I began reading creativity books, someone has described a pattern that is dominant in my creative process.
As a writer and artist, I cycle between two creative states. I work full on, taking everything in, being connected, being public with what I am doing thinking making—art shows, blog, social media, leading workshops. Then I go dark. I retreat to my studio, shut the door, and continue making but in private. I do not want to see, talk, or interact with anyone. Leave me alone. In this creative state, I bite.
I have always created in this way, always shifted from one state to the other.
I used to think because I wasn’t entirely one state or the other, there was something wrong with me. I thought I was being wishy-washy and inconsistent, possibly unreliable. Isn’t that one of the myths, artists are unreliable?
It took me years to understand this is my creative process.
My creativity has and needs both my public and private states of making. These states are not opposites. They are partners. Each feeds, supports, and inspires the other.
Maybe this is obvious to you, but for some reason I couldn’t see it. I had to learn by doing, understand through experiencing, that this pattern of creating is my normal. I learned there is not something wrong with me. This is the way I operate.
The other thing I learned from accepting my pattern of creating is there is no single creative process. There are as many processes as there are people. Each of us has a unique way of making what we make. The creative process is as wildly creative as creativity itself.
In this post:
Kim Werker, book, ‘Make It Might Ugly: Exercises and Advice for Getting Creative Even When It Ain’t Pretty’, Sasquatch Books, 2014. http://www.kimwerker.com/ Thank you, Kim, for sharing your book and your creativity.
I’ve shifted from my inner two-year-old’s tantrum (last week), to my inner teenager’s boredom.
I am bored. I know these words and this feeling. I used to be here a lot when I was a teenager and figuring out my life.
I’ve not felt bored for a very long time. I’ve been busy creating word and image and mostly happy about it. I’ve had perfect successes and perfect failures. I’ve learned and grown as a creator.
And then, Bang! I’m in a week-long tantrum. And then, Pop! My two-year-old morphs into a teenager who keeps saying ‘I am bored.’
Boredom is interesting. That sounds like an oxymoron (love that word), but it isn’t. I am curious about this feeling of boredom.
What I am thinking:
Boredom and my previous tantrum are really the same thing.
What am I bored with? And why?
This boredom is an aspect of my creative process and a piece of my creativity.
My morning pages show me I am tired of pushing myself.
I have four puzzle pieces to play with, and here is the picture they are making. I’ve realized the pushing is towards intentions that are not completely aligned with what I love and how I create. It’s taking me out of alignment with my heart (where my best work comes from) and my process (how my best work grows and completes itself).
This is Big. If I had not gone into tantrum and boredom, I wouldn’t have slowed down enough to see this.