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Your Creative Intentions: The Monday Post ~ December 2, 2013

Ray Bradbury Creativity Cats

Commit to a regular creativity practice. Regularity — a daily practice, if possible — is key to staying in touch with how you make meaning.

What are your plans for creative practice this week? Given the specifics of your schedule, decide on a realistic intention or practice plan — and ink that time in your calendar. The scheduling part is important, because as you know, if you try to “fit it in” around the edges, it generally won’t happen. An intention as simple as “I will write for 20 minutes every morning after breakfast” or “I will sketch a new still life on Wednesday evening” is what it’s all about. If appropriate, use time estimates to containerize your task, which can make a daunting project feel more accessible.

Share your intentions or goals as a comment to this post, and let us know how things went with your creative plans for last week, if you posted to last week’s Monday Post. We use a broad brush in defining creativity, so don’t be shy. We also often include well-being practices that support creativity, such as exercise and journaling.

Putting your intentions on “paper” helps you get clear on what you want to do — and sharing those intentions with this community leverages the motivation of an accountability group. Join us!

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If you’re an artist or writer with little ones, The Creative Mother’s Guide: Six Creative Practices for the Early Years is the essential survival guide written just for you. Concrete strategies for becoming more creative without adding stress and guilt. Filled with the wisdom of 13 insightful creative mothers; written by a certified creativity coach and mother of five. “Highly recommended.” ~Eric Maisel. 35 pages/$11.98. Available for download here.

Everything and Nothing: A Day in the Life

Yesterday was one of those days filled with everything and nothing. I bet you can relate. It started in the wee hours:

12:30 am My three oldest (Russell, Matthew, and Emma) return home from a Dear Hunter concert; I am only vaguely aware of noises downstairs in the kitchen as someone prepares a midnight snack.

4:00 am Matthew, a high-school senior, is picked up by his girlfriend and her dad. They head to school for the band and chorus road trip to Cleveland. I have left a good-bye note for Matthew; I stay in bed.

6:00 am Up for the day — late. Abbreviated morning practice. Make tea. Husband departs.

6:20 am I plan the day and drink my tea. The three cats are acting somewhat frantic. One of them, Finn, is scheduled for surgery today so no one has had access to food or water since last night. Sasha tries to eat a houseplant.

6:35 am I carefully read through the thick recital packet from Emma’s dance school, decide that I’m not going to volunteer as a chaperone, and calculate our ticket purchase. Emma is still in bed; I go upstairs to confirm that she wants to stay home today on account of last night’s late concert. She does. So I don’t need to make her breakfast or lunch. Bonus!

6:50 am Liam, who just turned four years old this week, gets up (unusually late). We snuggle and eat breakfast.

7:20 am After settling Liam on the couch watching Tom & Jerry, I go upstairs to shower and dress.

7:40 am Seven-year-old Aidan is still asleep. I wake him up, hurriedly get him some cereal, make lunches for both boys, and dress Liam. I put Finn in the kitty carry bag and make it out to the garage.

8:10 am We drive down the hill. The school bus rolls up and Aidan departs. Liam, Finn, and I set off for the vet’s office. Finn howls all the while, trying to claw his way out of the carry bag. Perhaps he knows that he’ll be leaving the vet’s office with a little less than he’s bringing in. Each time Finn howls, Liam screeches in delight.

8:30 am At the vet’s office. I fill out Finn’s paperwork and Liam kisses Finn goodbye through the carry-bag’s mesh.

9:00 am We arrive at Liam’s school. Liam hates his school, and informs me of this repeatedly, as he always does, clinging to my leg as I try to leave. I extract myself remorsefully, telling myself that Liam’s acceptance letter to his new Montessori school is surely imminent.

9:25 am Back in the car, I listen to an installment of The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, which is lovely. En route to the studio, I pick up a cappuccino at my favorite local café.

10:00 am At Open Studio for the monthly meeting of my nonfiction writers’ group. (I am a member of this group, rather than the facilitator.) I love these women. Great feedback and encouragement on my e-book project, which is nearly finished.

12:20 pm Check e-mail from the studio, respond to a few client messages, take my turns at Words With Friends via iPhone, and plan the rest of the day before heading out. The vet calls to say that Finn did great; he’s still seeing double but I can pick him up anytime after 2:00.

12:40 pm Heading for home. On the way, I drop off two bags of shirts at the dry cleaner’s and stop at the pharmacy to pick up an rx.

1:15 pm At home. Eat lunch. Check in with daughter, who is enjoying her day off. More e-mail triage. Let dog out. Register Emma up for a creative fashion camp.

1:45 pm 30-minute phone call with student from my Wednesday writers’ workshop who missed class yesterday due to illness.

2:15 pm Brief chat with my oldest, Russell, about last night’s concert. Russ just returned home from college yesterday and I haven’t had much chance to see him yet. I also spend some time mapping out the choreography for the afternoon, as Matthew, who normally drives Emma to her voice and dance lessons, is en route to Cleveland and there is a lot to juggle being down my Thursday afternoon chauffeur. Russell is on deadline with five papers that are due tomorrow so I can’t assign him any driving.

2:55 pm Depart for Emma’s voice lesson. Emma, who has her learner’s permit, does the driving. I practice my deep breathing as Emma hesitates in the middle of an intersection, nearly causing a five-car pileup. But she’s doing great.

3:20 pm Arrive music school, late. Emma goes in for her lesson. I get into the driver’s seat and head to Liam’s school. More of The Forgotten Garden.

3:30 pm I retrieve Liam, who is always deliriously happy to see me. I have brought him some leftover candy from his birthday piñata, which he munches intently as we drive back to the music school to get Emma.

3:45 pm Depart music school with Emma and Liam. Emma is driving again. Getting to the dance school two towns over requires several highway stints. More deep breathing. Meanwhile, Russell, who is at home working on his papers, will meet Aidan when he gets off the bus.

4:10 pm Park outside the dance school. Emma goes inside for class. I check in with husband via text to be sure that he’ll be home by 6:00 in order to take Aidan to soccer practice. Everything seems to be on target. I have promised Liam a treat at the bakery next door (the piñata candy hasn’t made a dent in this child’s appetite for sugar and even though I try not to eat the stuff myself, apparently I have no problem feeding it to my children); we attempt to enter the bakery but they’re closed. Liam bursts into tears. I assure him that there’s another option a short walk away. He cheers immediately and we have a nice walk in the sun. He ends up with a brownie and apple juice. Happy.

4:40 pm Back in the car, we still have over an hour left to wait out Emma’s 90-minute class. I allow Liam the rare delight of watching a DVD in the car. I queue up Monsters Inc. With Liam plugged into the electronic babysitter as he happily strews brownie crumbs all over the car, I sit in the passenger seat and prepare to do some work on my laptop. I realize that a studio document I need is only available online, and I have no wifi access here. Instead of doing client work, I opt to make edits to my e-book based on feedback from the morning’s writers’ group. Nothing like creating in the middle of things. I make excellent progress punctuated by intermittent conversation with Liam.

5:40 pm I hear an unfamiliar beeping noise and suddenly realize what I’ve done. In my frantic attempt to jump out of the car and run around to the driver’s side, I get caught in the strap of my messenger bag and nearly wipe out in the parking lot. By the time I make it to the driver’s seat, it’s too late. The car battery is dead. I’ve been playing a DVD for nearly an hour without running the engine.

5:45 pm Call husband, who is nearly home. We decide that I’ll use the roadside service deal that comes with our car lease. I call and make arrangements for a jump. They tell me it will be about an hour. This is going to be a very long hour. Emma asks me if the battery will recharge itself just by sitting there. No, I tell her. That’s not how it works.

6:00 pm Liam is hot, as he’s sitting in the sun, and Emma is cold, as the windows are open and she’s sitting in the shade. I’m on Liam’s sunny side, and I’m pretty sure my left ear is getting burned off in the late afternoon soon. I’m unable to address any of these climate control issues, seeing as the car is dead. I tell Liam to climb into the shady side of the car. I check in with my husband, who has arrived home to take Aidan to soccer, but Aidan isn’t ready. (I neglected to ask Russell to tell Aidan to get his soccer kit on.) Aidan will be late for practice. I inform my husband, in case it isn’t readily apparent, that I will not be making dinner.

6:30 pm We’re getting hungry, and I really have to pee. Meanwhile, the vet closes at 8:00, and someone needs to get there in time to fetch Finn. The tow guy calls to tell me he’s on his way. He’s leaving from Newton, which is at least 45 minutes away. Seriously? Time for action. I decide that Liam and I will walk over to the pizza place around the corner while Emma stays with the car. As Liam opens his door, the interior light flicks on. How can the light go on if the battery is totally dead? I turn the key in the ignition. The car roars to life. Apparently that is how it works, I note for Emma’s benefit. It’s been a while since I experienced this level of gratitude for the combustion engine. We set off for the vet’s as I call to cancel the jump.

7:05 pm We make it to the vet. Liam, ever curious, comes in with me. $210 later, we come out to the car with Finn in his carry bag, which I hand to Emma. At which point we discover that it’s soaking wet. Apparently Finn, in his post-surgical state, relieved himself upon being installed in his bag. (At this point I can relate to his sense of urgency.) Given that Emma doesn’t want to hold the wet bag on her lap and Finn is meowing his head off, it’s an interesting drive home.

7:20 pm We’re home and I make a run for the bathroom. Emma takes Finn upstairs in the pee-bag and the boys sit down to eat the veggie corn dogs that my husband has set out for them. I scrounge up some dinner for myself. Aidan, recounting the day’s events at school, bursts into explaining that when he was out at recess, a second-grader named Tommy gleefully pulled a worm in half, brushing aside Aidan’s protests. Aidan, haunted by the image, is devastated, sobbing uncontrollably. I stifle the urge to do to Tommy what Tommy did to the worm.

7:40 pm My husband takes Liam upstairs for a bath. Aidan is still too emotional for bathing. We talk.

7:50 pm Partially recovered, Aidan heads upstairs to brush his teeth. I clean the kitchen.

8:30 pm It’s way past bedtime for the boys. I go upstairs to tuck Liam in and read to Aidan. We’re in the middle of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Aidan and I very much look forward to our nightly reading ritual.

8:50 pm I tuck Aidan in and go downstairs to start a load of laundry.

9:00 pm At my desk. As he has requested, I edit two of Russell’s final papers.

10:00 pm More e-mail triage. I set up a water delivery for the studio. I design a flier for an upcoming author event and post it to our facebook page.

10:45 pm Russell brings his laptop into my office and shares a few funnies from the interwebs. Emma makes an appearance and laughs with us. I advance the laundry.

11:05 pm Upstairs, I say goodnight to Emma and get ready for bed. I check my pedometer and see that I’m 100 steps short of my 5,000-step daily minimum. So I run downstairs to grab my prescription. By the time I get back, I’ve hit my quota. My husband has long since turned out the lights. I’m too tired to read my book, even though book group is on Saturday night and I’m only halfway through. Sleep awaits.

If you’re reading this line, you are the only person in the world to get this far, and I hug you for keeping me company all the way to the end.

Despite the day’s adventures, I’m pleased that I managed to create in the middle of things, and that I kept my cool rather than succumbing to stress. I know that by this time next year — heck, this time next month — I won’t remember this day at all. And yes, tomorrow is another day.

Miranda: I want to do NOTHING. Meow.

Lately I find myself staring wistfully at my cats. Sasha, curled up in her bed atop my desk, basking in the warmth of my desk lamp for hours on end. Mimi, stretched out on the back of the sofa, staring out the window at everything and nothing. They eat, they sleep, they wash, they run around a little bit, ask for affection when they want it,  and make their own fun — knocking over my water glass, eating Spanish moss out of the houseplants, chasing a long-lost chess pawn across the dining room floor. Sasha loves water; she bathes in the kitchen sink while we’re doing dishes and keeps the kids company in the bathroom during bath time. Then she goes off to find yet another cozy spot to take a snooze.

It’s a nice life.

Not that I would trade for a cat’s life permanently, but gee, a day or two would be awfully nice, wouldn’t it?

One sign that my stress level is getting way too high: I become resentful of my cats’ unencumbered lifestyles. My resentment is a helpful stress gauge because really, the insomnia, heart palpitations, and facial twitches aren’t clear enough indicators. Even though I’ve made recent progress editing my to-do list and scope in an attempt to focus on what really matters, each day is still about 10 hours too short. I used to think that I could just sleep less and steal “extra” hours while everyone else was tucked up in bed, but chronically working into the wee hours comes with a price — a price that I don’t want to keep paying. I’ve found that migraines and other health issues become frequent occurrences when I don’t get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. I can feel myself aging. So I decided that sleep simply must become more of a priority. In the past few weeks since I started going to be earlier, I’m more clear-headed and healthier (although not, ironically, that much less tired).

Aside from the freedom to sleep at will, what I admire about the life of a cat is the license to do nothing. Dogs aren’t like that. Sure, dogs sleep a lot (at least mine does — she’s a Newfoundland), but dogs have more of an agenda than cats do. Dogs work. Dogs feel obliged to do this or that — greet you when you come home (even if that means waking from a deep sleep and rising from a warm bed), bark when the doorbell rings, try to eat the mailman — whatever. Cats may or may not try to eat the mailman, but you can be sure that it won’t happen on cue. A cat will only try to eat the mailman if she feels like it. No robotic force of habit at work. No slavish worship to “shoulds.” Because as we all know, dogs want to please their owners, and cats don’t give a damn.

Being agenda-free does have its appeal. Oh, to have nothing to do! The prospect is dazzling. The more I feel overwhelmed by my to-do list, the more that curling into a ball on a patch of sunny carpet — utterly without guilt or angst — seems like the obvious, appropriate response to any situation.

While I realize that I’ll never have the feline’s ability to simply suit myself — everyone else (husband and five kids) be damned — there are lessons to be learned from the cat. Doing nothing is a good thing, at least in small quantities. And I don’t mean vegging out; I mean studiously doing nothing and letting magic unfold where it might. No agenda. No shoulds.

Kids are good at showing us how “doing nothing” can turn into an adventure. On Sunday afternoon I followed my toddler (who is peg-legging around on a full leg cast) into the dining room, where he found a ball hiding under the piano bench. For at least 30 minutes, he entertained himself by climbing onto the piano bench (with a lot of help, as climbing onto a piano bench is life-threatening difficult in a full leg cast) and sitting down, throwing the ball across the room, getting back down, peg-legging over to fetch the ball, bringing it back to the piano bench, and repeating the process, with or without a little piano playing in between. As I sat there, helping him up and down, I took in the afternoon sunlight on the wood floor and realized that I was about as close to doing nothing as I can ever be. No electronics droning the background; just family noises and the scraping and thumping of my toddler’s cast dragging across the floor. OK, so that last part wasn’t so idyllic, but still.

Eventually my son made his way into the hallway and decided to go upstairs to where his brother was playing. We found ourselves loitering on the landing at the top of the staircase. I settled on the top step, serving as barricade. Before we knew it a family game had evolved — my toddler and 5-year-old throwing a small ball, a cloth Spiderman face mask, and a parachute guy off of the balcony down onto my husband, who returned the toys in long aerial passes, trying to avoid the hallway chandelier. The boys thought this was hysterical, especially when my husband missed and the ball or parachute guy ricocheted off the balusters. Good clean fun, which never seems to grow tiresome. (Well, my husband’s arm got a little tired after half an hour, but the boys were still enamored.)

On a Sunday afternoon, passing an hour or two doing almost nothing feels awfully nice. I try not to think of the frightening to-do list that looms over my head like a tidal wave. The work, the book (the one I’m writing), the house, the book (the other one I’m writing), the laundry, the book (the one I need to finish reading for book group), the impatient client, the empty fridge. The wave will always be there — but will never actually crash down on my head. (At least that’s what I tell myself as I try to live in the moment.) The moments of that Sunday afternoon, however, are fleeting. Doing “nothing” makes for memories that have long lives and crystalline edges.

Of course, I’m not the only person who thinks that doing nothing is good for you. Doing nothing is by extension part of the slow parenting movement (and the slow movement in general). The brain needs to be left to its own devices on occasion in order to stimulate creativity (and, I would add, well-being). By doing nothing, it turns out, you often end up “doing” wonderful things without even realizing it — because your focus was entirely on the moment and evolved into enjoying a process, rather than being focused on the outcome. (This is also why I’m a big fan of Montessori education. It’s all about the process rather than appending meaningless rewards to performance. The process itself is the reward.)

Phew. That’s way too much thinking for someone who was trying to do nothing. Now, about that nap….

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