Annette: Creative Practice is Fertilizer for Your Soul
Editor’s Note: I’m delighted to introduce you to Annette Varoli, a smart and talented creative mother who I connected with during Jennifer Lee’s Right-Brain Business Plan course last year. Annette is the real deal. When Annette recently told me that she had firmly committed to a daily creative practice — and that her practice was life-changing — I asked her to share her journey with Studio Mothers readers. Enjoy.
Annette Varoli: I am the proud momma of 6-year old girl, I’ve been married 11 years to a guy who is a modern day “MacGyver” and I’m in love with my cat, Coco. I’ve lived half my life in New York and recently returned to my birth state of Maryland but I love traveling, having been to over 100 cities in 20 countries. I am the artist of my life. My mission is to live my life in FULL color and inspire others to do the same. This has taken the form of architect, project manager, and holistic health coach to name a few. Currently, I’m a budding entrepreneur, exploring the next best fit for my creative expression. Three themes that have run through the course of my lifetime: making heart-to-heart connections, the creative arts, and abundance. This is what inspired my new blog. Check it out!
Fertilizer for Your Soul
Recently, my six-year-old has been asking me to keep her company in the bathroom, specifically for “number 2’s” — and not just for the wiping part.
Although I don’t particularly enjoy the aroma, I know that this is the time of day where she either imparts deep wisdom or where she philosophizes about life, so I go willingly. I sit on the floor of the bathroom ready to listen to what my little Buddha will teach me each time.
Yesterday, she did not disappoint. She assumed her position on the throne and within a few seconds, she says in a voice that sounds like when you rave about your favorite dessert, “Mommy, why does pooping feel soooo good? It just feels sooooo good. Why is that?” Her angelic face alternating between an inquisitive look and a squinching one, whenever she unloads her bowels.
She’s dead serious so I do my best to contain myself and say, “Well, sweetie, it’s because it’s a great release and a way for your body to get rid of the icky stuff… imagine if you couldn’t poop, then all of it would get STUCK inside you.”
That’s when it dawned on me that doing daily creative practice is like having healthy bowel movements… it just feels soooo good. It helps you get unstuck and feeling like yourself again. Like taking all the crap in your life and turning it into fertilizer for your soul!
I know this for a fact because over the past 15 weeks, I’ve been doing a daily creative practice and it has been life changing. Although most people know me to be a creative person, it feels like it took me a hundred years to arrive at this particular place in my life. One where I finally understand how essential regular creative practice is to my life, my success and personal happiness. But how did I get here one might ask? Allow me to share a bit of my creative journey.
As a toddler, I got spanked for drawing on walls and climbing up on the bench so that I could play the keyboard (not before they took a photo for posterity like the one at right). My parents wanted clean walls and feared for my safety if I sat on the bench unsupervised. They meant well but that marked the beginning of my creativity being controlled.
Later in my early education, elective classes and extracurricular activities fed my creativity. I loved anything music and arts related.
However, I didn’t realize at the time that my creative pursuits were being filtered through my young, naive, brain. The one that bought into the idea that these activities were called extra or elective because they were outside of the normal curriculum, optional… in other words, “not really important.”
At the same time I was an academic, excelling in my normal subjects. Unfortunately, my achievement in what society deemed “serious subjects” led me to pick a major using only my head and not my heart. It was a decision based on this equation, “I’m good at math, science and art. What does that equal? ARCHITECTURE.”
With that decision, I entered my first semester in architectural school and quickly learned that they frowned on extracurricular activities, wanting the students to focus solely on architecture. Thinking I was taking a vow for creativity, I willingly followed the rules, not realizing that I was trading in my 18-year-old creative self for a creatively stifled 50-year-old.
My inner child decided to leave the building, while the school’s climate and a few misguided professors helped grow my inner critic.
Everything became very serious, very quickly. Ironically, all the creative passion that I threw into my portfolio which in fact, got me accepted into the college would be exactly what the school intentionally wanted to strip away. My passion for mixed media, vivid colors and freehand drawing was replaced with ink line drawings and white box models. Color was forbidden.
Once, I was getting a desk critique from a visiting professor, whose teaching style was unlike the majority at my school. He looked at my sketches and looked at me and then said, “You’re a young woman, why don’t you draw like one? Be more young and free in your drawings.”
The school had successfully controlled my creativity. I made drawings that finally fit the mold and yet I didn’t recognize myself in any of my drawings and neither had the visiting critic. I had failed at being myself but my true creative spirit didn’t leave me. She just ended up biding her time in once again “elective” classes, taking every type of dance class offered.
I’ll admit that architecture school allows more individual creativity in the latter part of your education, but by then for me, it felt too late. One of the only places that my authentic self overlapped in the architectural world was when a few students and I formed our own acapella group and sang at architecture events.
My education culminated in me on stage at the graduation ceremony singing “Blackbird.” I had partied a little too much the night before drowning my sorrows in disbelief that my education didn’t feel more fulfilling. The next morning, I actually woke up without my voice and barely squawked out, “Blackbird singing in the dead of night… take these broken wings and learn to fly… You were only waiting for this moment to be free.”
I don’t think the universe could have sent me a clearer sign that my creativity was stifled.
How I developed my creative practice
When I became a mother, I took some time out from the corporate jungle and went on maternity leave. While I was breastfeeding and soaking up the stillness of my life, I realized that I needed a career reset and no longer wanted to return to my old life.
I explored other interests and decided to jump onto the entrepreneur’s path and started building a business. With no prior background in business or marketing, I dove into learning and implementing everything I could to figure out a way for my creativity and passions to be birthed into a new career, one of my own making.
However, the “academic student” in me took over the reigns and focused on learning the how-tos of marketing strategy, development and production. While I learned a ton, somehow I left so much of my creative self out. Once again following someone else’s rules left me feeling creatively stifled. On the flip side, when I wasn’t following anyone’s rules, my passions ran amok and had me jumping onto any idea I felt excited about. I’ve since learned that not having some kind of focus is not sustainable.
There’s a delicate balance required and I’ve learned that regular creative practice is a healthy way for me to contain my creativity so that my passions have a safe place to be free and focused.
This past November after months of working my marketing plan with little success, I got sick. In the days I laid in bed, I had decided that my current business wasn’t the right fit for me. I knew I needed to put an end to the madness and reclaim my creative self and really integrate it into my entire being.
This decision led me to Lisa Sonora Beam and so began my daily creative practice. Ms. Beam is a ray of light who provided me with the framework of creative practice so that I could start defining my own rules for my life and work.
There was a moment after I had weaned my daughter when I felt like a shell of a human being. My daughter was budding into this vibrant, bright-eyed energetic human being, while my deflated breasts, flat butt and rolls of distended belly skin left me feeling like whatever energy and spirit I had, I must have just handed it all over to her.
Psychologically, I was no longer an architect or a project manager and I hadn’t yet fully stepped into a new career. Who was I? I gave everything and it seemed there was nothing left for me.
Women are literally the containers of life — of CREATIVE ENERGY. On the positive side, we provide the containers that feed and nourish, the containers that offer shelter and comfort and we are the containers that birth life itself.
On the negative side, we physically and metaphorically carry the collective baggage of society. We take on the emotional toll of the dark truths of humanity and we continue to open our hearts, offering creative solutions in dire circumstances, even when we feel our backs might break.
But what contains US? There is wisdom in the ones who continue to feed, nurture, and create beauty and peace in the world. However, I realize NONE of that wisdom can be harvested if women give and never receive. When they don’t know their own needs because they’re too busy tending to everyone else’s needs and when they can forgive others but can’t forgive themselves.
Everyone needs a supportive place to express their biggest dreams and a place to examine all their dark, ugly, “poopy” parts.
This is the gift that having a daily creative practice has been for me. What started out as a combination of journaling, painting, drawing and collaging, has expanded to more meditation and more sketchbooks to navigate other specific areas of my life. After all these years of helping others, now I’m finally birthing myself, filling my own vessel with self-love so that I can continue to give all my gifts to the world in a more sustainable way.
Here are some of the other blessings a regular creative practice has given me and can give you:
1) RELAXING THE ROCK
I get to have freedom from my roles as wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend to name a few. I know many women who serve as the ROCK, the anchors for others but in my creative practice this rock can relax and be myself.
2) MIRROR OF MY SOUL
For the longest time, I was solely identified with being a “good” girl, like a princess. Pretty, polite, and kind. But every once in awhile my anger would rear its ugly head and explode on some unsuspecting human. Not pretty.
Through my practice, I remembered that as a child I loved the Incredible Hulk and yet as an adult, whenever the subject of superheroes came up in conversation, I only mentioned my love for Wonder Woman. All these years, I was rejecting a darker side of myself.
During the time I was examining the ugly “poopy” parts of myself, my sister synchronistically bought me a little Incredible Hulk doll. When I saw it, to my surprise, I cried uncontrollable tears. After some thought, I realized that I was crying tears of joy because I finally welcomed home a long lost friend.
Now Princess and the Hulk are married in my heart and I love them both equally. Now, whenever I feel the angry hulk acting up in me, I know it’s just his warning that my own needs are not getting met and it’s time for me to tend to myself.
I am more confident to weather the ebbs and flows of life and to accept things as they are. The world has been changing dramatically in recent years and we can feel the changes both universally and personally. There’s been a lot of “WTF?!” energy around but my practice has helped drive away anxiety, helping me breathe and live even more in the present moment.
My creative practice has served as a tool for self-discovery. I’ve been setting intentions and the practice has been putting them in motion. Discovering my true purpose was one of my intentions and I found out that I had been leaving out a big piece of the puzzle, which is that whatever I bring to the world is meant to have a spiritual focus. I believe that creative practice is spiritual practice. Every time I go to the page, it’s as if I’m making a silent prayer to discover more of myself so that I can fulfill my purpose in life and help others to do the same.
Another current intention is releasing all the stuff from my past that doesn’t serve my highest good. A few days into this intention, I was able to truly make peace with a friend’s death. In the 11 years since her death, I hadn’t found the time to properly grieve my loss and tend to my sadness, but alone in my office doing my practice; I found the freedom and peace to do so.
What’s really exciting is that my practice has organically taken on a life of its own. It has served as a launch pad for future business plans, the design of a new home, and for increasing my spiritual practice. The more I do my creative practice, the more I am drawing all kinds of abundance to me in the way of finances, things, people and opportunities that support my growth.
Sometimes life can feel like we’re all weaving our way through piles of sh*t, but if we can leave the baggage behind and use the rest as fertilizer for our soul, AND if I can turn my voiceless, broken blackbird into a singing canary on the page, then you certainly can too through creative practice.
In the meantime, I echo performer Ani DiFranco when she sings, “I’m Queen of my own compost heap and I’m getting used to the smell.” Like Ani, I too got a vision of blue sky and dry land and it feels soooo good!