Christine: Sleepless in the Studio
Long ago, one of my dance professors explained the concept of the personal well of creativity, and how sleep is a key to replenishing it. I thought I understood at the time, I mean, of course you need to get enough sleep in order to dance. Tired dancers get hurt, do not serve the choreographer’s artistic vision, and are not strong.
What she really meant was that the source of your personal artistic stamp on creative work comes from a place that biologically requires rest, but also spiritually requires it. Rest allows the re-ordering of thought processes, the ability to plan and integrate ideas, see various perspectives, make connections, find meaning, and use the tools of your art more skillfully. You reach down into your personal “well” for the tools that make your work your own expression, and you apply them to the project at hand. When you’re tired, it’s harder to reach and there’s less there to grasp.
So, in order to make better work, you have to sleep adequately to refill the well.
My husband is probably laughing right now, reading this. I never nap unless I am totally, completely exhausted or ill. I always put sleep aside for other things, even those that aren’t really important, because they seem important to me, like I somehow need to be present and conscious, even if whatever task I’m trying to do can be done by someone else or not at all. Somewhere along the line, I was taught or I learned that sleep = lazy, unmotivated, unfocused, unproductive. Terrible, isn’t it?
Of course, this particular post comes from my own current significant sleep deficit. I am faced with many projects, and plans for projects, but running on less than five hours of sleep a night for the past four nights is making starting those projects nearly impossible. We’re well past the infant stage in this house, but that doesn’t mean that the little kids don’t have nightmares, or potty needs, or the dogs don’t get sick and need to go out at 3 a.m. Little kids get up early, too, regardless of their bedtime or mine.
The end result is that I can’t find that sweet feeling of sitting down at the table and creating the vision that’s in my head. I’m overwhelmed by the tools and the materials; there are too many choices, and not enough focus. I get distracted by household tasks, music, the kids, Facebook, and the refrigerator. I know I eat too much when I am tired. I can’t get off my stool at the kitchen island and get into my workshop, and I feel like I will never make another thing again. I know it’s not true, but it feels true.
If I literally cannot nap (I’m the only adult with the kids, for example), then I try to stay mindful of several things: One, I am tired and although I am searching for an energy boost, I will not find it in the fridge unless I am honestly hungry. Two, this, too, shall pass. Three, this does not mean I will never make another piece of beautiful jewelry/art/collage/whatever again, it just means that I am tired and can’t do it right now. And four, sometimes the better part of valor is just to stay away from the workshop and not put myself in a position to get overwhelmed and upset. And sometimes, I just have to drink another cup of coffee and get on with the day.
I hope I get an opportunity to nap later today. But first, I think I’ll make another pot of coffee.
What do you do to manage your creative wellspring? Have you noticed a difference in your creative work when you get less sleep than usual?