The Canadian painter Robert Genn writes a terrific, twice-weekly newsletter. While Genn writes primarily about painting, his thoughts apply to any creative pursuit, including writing. The gem below, which looks at ways to stop wasting time in the abyss of decision-making, is reprinted by permission.
Choreographer Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit describes her morning routine of rising early and going through the same morning rituals; same coffee, same bun. She puts on the same leotards, goes down the same elevator to the same street corner, puts her same arm up in the air and gets into the first cab that comes along.
By the time she gets to the studio she has made no significant decisions. Stepping out onto the dance floor, her dancers await. It’s eight in the morning and her first decision is yet to come. It will be a creative one.
We painters also need to save our decision-making for things of importance. “Don’t,” as they say, “sweat the small stuff.” I figure an average 11″ x 14″ uses up several hundred thousand decisions. Compound that over a day of painting and it’s in the millions. Even the small decisions in a painting, some of them so micro and seemingly insignificant, are the building blocks of what we are to become.
Fact is, some lives are so filled with impedimentary drama and ancillary decision-making that there is little time left over for work.
While I sympathize with those who find it difficult to eliminate some workaday decisions, the idea is to step ASAP into the happy hunting ground. Here are a few ideas:
PS: “We cannot directly choose our circumstances, but we can choose our thoughts, and so indirectly, yet surely, we shape our circumstances.” (self-help pioneer James Allen)
Esoterica: The cosmetics tycoon and women’s advocate Mary Kay Ash said, “There are three types of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened… You can decide which type of person you want to be.” We artists, in particular, need to be among those who make things happen. Self-starting, self-motivating and self-critical, we focus our energy on thought, planning, observation, quality control and production. Difficult decisions–lots of them–are both the joy and the burden of creative folks. “Those who avoid the tough choices of life,” said author Robert Brault, “live a life they never chose.”
Don’t miss the treasure trove of Genn’s letters here.
I decided to become a certified creativity coach through the national Creativity Coaching Association (CCA). This means I’ll spend up to two years taking classes and coaching clients in order to earn my certification. My first class, with creativity guru Eric Maisel, began at the beginning of February. I’m already learning so much that I can hardly contain my excitement. I am now a CCA member, although I won’t be a certified coach until I complete the training program.
For me, becoming a certified creativity coach is the natural next step in what has long been my passion: understanding the ways in which we express our creativity and striving to help creative people (women, and mothers, most specifically) overcome obstacles, reach their creative goals, and live in alignment with their priorities. This work directly informs the nonfiction book I’ve been working on for the past three years: A Mother’s Guide to the Creative Life (a survival guide based on interviews with dozens of creative mothers). Receiving professional training helps me re-asses and refine the framework and strategies that I developed in my manuscript. And of course, certification will enable me to step up the informal coaching atmosphere of this blog — which is really an exciting prospect.
If you’re wondering what a creativity coach really is, here’s a blurb from the CCA website:
I feel so good about this decision — and the process itself — that I’m pretty much a grinning fool, even when nobody’s around to see me. Of course, one of the primary bonus by-products of coaching training is that I am learning how to address my own issues and perceived obstacles. By helping others, I help myself. And the more I help myself, the more able I become to help others. A pretty awesome self-perpetuating loop. While I naturally had concerns about how to fit one more thing onto my already overflowing plate, I know that this is an important step for me — one that merits prioritization. Like most “right” decisions, it’s working itself out organically. Even though I’ve been busy with classwork and coaching, I’ve also made time for my own creativity, with a renewed sense of presence and commitment. It’s happening.
Along the way, I’ll be needing volunteer “coachees,” in the same way that you can go to a hairstyling school and get a free haircut from one of the students. The student stylist gets to learn on a live person, and you get a free haircut — and hopefully leave the school’s salon without looking like a poodle, unless of course that was the look you were going for. So if anyone is interested in joining my pool of coachee clients, drop me a line at creativereality (at) live.com and let me know. I promise I’ll do my best to avoid bad perms.
While watching the premiere of Handmade Nation By Faythe Levine a few years ago, I latched onto the phrase “gateway drug” referring to the means by which an artist meanders into the art/craft genre. I have been thinking about what that “drug” would be for me and I know for sure writing is THE thing. It is the one thing I gravitate to when I feel at my wits’ end. Writing brings this gift to my life which allows me to renew the hope that life is ALL about the process and that going through the process is worth it. Equally fulfilling these last several months is recognizing that others experience this same satisfaction when they are drawing or crocheting or crafting mosaics or jewelry making. A mentor of mine sent me an e-mail around this same time. He posed the question: “how are you doing with the ‘what next” now that your seminary degree is completed?” I almost deleted the e-mail; the words were too hot to even live in my inbox. The following week I got an invitation for the commencement ceremony for my alma mater. Again, a knock at my door which I was not ready to answer. I answered the e-mail later in the week this way: “I would have never expected it to look like this — my life, I mean. I do not know what to do but I do know what I am not doing: writing.” He responded quickly, “What is it you think you should be writing?” Since then, I have found many ways to exercise that writing muscle: through blogging, whether it be on my blog or as a guest blogger. And I strings words and thoughts together for cards and mixed media. I am amazed at how a series of events coming together at the right time can challenge you in such a life changing way. How about you? What is YOUR THING that fuels all things creative? [photo credit]
I was doing some major studio cleaning and reorganizing this Sunday when I came back across the cards the girls made me for Mother’s Day. I keep a box in my studio of cards they make me since, more often than not, they make them sitting right there next to me…their little fingers covered with oil pastels and markers while they say “No peeking, Mama!” But these particular cards were made at school. They were those “My Mom…..” fill-in-the-blank kinds of things, like “My Mom has blond hair and green eyes.” I mentioned my eye-opening moment those cards brought me back in this post. What was the eye opening moment?
On Sarah’s card, one particular line read, “My Mom does not like to fish.” Sure enough, I hate to fish. I have no patience for fishing. If I don’t get a nibble within the first two minutes, I’m done. On that same line, Olivia’s read, “My Mom does not like to have fun so much.” Ouch. Big ouch. Given all the special fun stuff I try to do with them, that one really hurt. When I asked Livvie what she meant, she said, “Well, you’re always working, Mama, so you don’t get to play with us as much as Daddy does.” Amazing the clarity of children. When I looked at it from her perspective, she was exactly right. I don’t get to “play” with them as much as Daddy does, at least not during the week. DH leaves the house at 6:30 am every morning, before the girls are even up, so I have the morning duty of getting everyone fed, dressed and to school and work. Guess there’s not a whole lot of “fun” in that. DH picks them up from school about 4 pm every afternoon, so when they get home, they spend about 15 minutes on homework before they get to play, take a swim in the alien pod pool, ride their bikes around the backyard, etc. I don’t get home until at least 6 pm or 6:30 pm on the nights I’m not teaching. Teaching nights, it’s closer to bedtime. But even at 6 pm or 6:30 pm, that’s just in time to get dinner on the table, review a little homework, take a bath, and then read a book before bed. That’s one thing I’m diligent about: Mama gets to read the bedtime book and put them to bed every night, and we have our little bedtime lullaby that only Mama sings.
I know this isn’t unusual for working moms, but that doesn’t make it any less painful. I’ve mentioned here before that I’ve been keeping an eye out for full-time faculty openings for a while now. A full-time faculty position (as opposed to a full-time administrative position combined with part-time teaching) would definitely give me a lot more time. There are a few positions opening up in the fall, and I submitted my application last week. Even though I know a change is needed (no news to my supervisors as I’ve already shared this news with them), I have to admit I submitted that application with mixed emotions. I enjoy teaching, I truly do. Yet I also truly enjoy my current role in Student Life and Leadership Development. I think what I’d miss most if I am able to move into a faculty position is “leading” something. I’ve been in a leadership role for so long that that would be a difficult transition for me. Interesting thing about that, though, is that I’d have no hesitation leaving the formal work force all together, with my only “leadership role” being that of full-time mom and artist, but that’s not an option for us financially.
These particular positions are also new to the college. With our change to a four-year state college, we’re now approaching college-prep classes a little differently, and that will be the focus of these positions. Whereas our “normal” faculty positions require 15 classroom hours and 15 office hours per week each fall and spring term, these positions require 16 classroom hours (since prep classes are four credit hours each) and 16 lab tutoring hours. The 30 vs. 32 hours isn’t the issue as much as the fact that with the new positions, those 16 non-classroom hours are dedicated to tutoring instead of office hours, leaving class prep and grading to whenever you can fit it in. The carrot to balance that? Summers off. My other concern is the flexibility I might lose. Currently, as an administrator, I have ample annual leave and sick leave, so when I need to take a day off to go on a field trip with the girls, visit their school for an awards program, or take a couple days off for an arts festival or retreat, that’s easily done. That’s not so easily done in a faculty position. There is no annual leave or sick leave because you have summers off. These are all things I need to figure out and all questions I’ll have to ask should I be granted an interview. While summers off would definitely be a wonderful thing, are they worth the pay cut and very little flexibility the rest of the year? All things I need to work through.
All I know for sure is that Mama definitely does like to have fun and having more time to do that would be nice. I’ve been trying to look at things objectively. Now, I work some long hours but I have a lot of flexibility. Should I make a switch, I’d have fewer work nights and work weekends away from home coupled with summers off, but less flexibility during the school year and a pay cut. I can think of a lot of things I’d like to do with summers off, like have much more time to create art and expand my Purple Cottage ideas and retreats, which could potentially make up for or even surpass filling in for the pay cut I’d be taking, yet would I then be limited to doing those types of things during the summer, particularly the retreats, because I’d lose flexibility during the fall and spring? You see my conundrum? I realize I’m putting the cart before the horse here, but for my sanity, I need to work through these things before the horse gets rigged up. So, oh wise ones out there, what’s your take? If you were in my shoes facing a decision like this, what would you want to be when you grew up, since I guess that is exactly what I’m talking about here. 🙂
[Cross-posted from Artful Happiness]