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]
I will kvetch no more — this week anyway — as after my last two days of considering every option and feeling like I had none left, suddenly:
a friend offered to barter my tutoring her 13-year-old daughter for watching my 2-year-old daughter on writers’ group days. So I don’t need to find and pay for immediate daycare just so I can have a few hours of writing and critique time a couple of times a month.
Honey’s cousin needs some of Honey’s professional expertise on a public speaking gig in Colorado in a couple of weeks. And he offered to let me tag along, too. I will go to his public speaking gig, but largely, I am going to blissfully sit in my hotel room, without any interruptions and edit the bejeez out of my manuscript on Honey’s laptop!!!
and Grandma offered to watch the kids for that weekend.
I hope I didn’t die, because this sure feels like heaven.
[slightly edited crosspost from musings in mayhem]
crossposted from musings in mayhem
I am happy to have taken part in NaNoWriMo this year for the first time. It put me into a good lead on a companion book to my first novel, and now both need some serious editing. I lost my momentum between lots of doctor appointments for my whole family, getting quite ill myself and caring for sick kids, then my back went out as we leaned toward Thanksgiving, and I got hung up in word count rather than having fun enjoying writing well.
That last part was what killed the project for me. Not the whole project, I am happy to continue work on this particular piece, but I want to go about it in the way that is familiar to me. I am an editing nightmare to some, but I’ll tell you, that is what I really enjoy about writing as I write, the scribbles and rewording, the back-typing and rewording, the considering of the scene from an entirely different angle, etc. It’s what I enjoy about the middle of breadmaking, too: the kneading, the punching it into form.
I have just a few days left to try to make it to 50,000 words. I am at 19,201 and have my family home, no one at work, no one at school or at senior exercise programs until the thirtieth. I don’t think reaching 50,000 is my personal goal anymore. A children’s novel is typically about 30,000 and I don’t want to just write crap for filler for a contest that has lost meaning for me in it’s final goal. I’ve also lost my thread plotwise and feel like I’m wasting precious word count time doing what I actually love about writing and my process in it. That is indicative that it’s time for me to move on and refocus without the contest looming.
For now, for me, this year 19,201 is a fantastic stopping point. Now I can sink my teeth back into the edits of the first novel and then run right into edits on the second I started because of Nano.
Does this then make me a loser if I am not a Nano winner? Certainly not. I have 19,201 words written that I didn’t have before I started NaNoWriMo. That’s a big win in my book. I’ve never written 19,000 words toward one thing in three weeks time in my whole life, nevermind with a houseful of sickies and also school days off throughout the month.
I may not have hit 50,000, but I did a lot more than I would have if I hadn’t tried.
I was catching up with some Facebook friends last week and my blogging and art friend Carmen shared, “Having an article and blog feature in this issue of Artful Blogging is a dream come true! What’s on your list of dreams?” I shared with you one of my dreams in my Purple Cottage post. Then I told you I’d be checking out a piece of property I’ve been watching for quite a while in this post. I’ve admitted here before that I haven’t totally bought into the whole “universe bringing you what you desire” concept just yet, but some little things here and there have been leading me more towards believing that, and my little visit to check out this property was a big knock on the head! I’ve known the property since college; it’s been unoccupied for at least 15 years. In that 15 years, it’s also never been for sale. So, guess what? The first time I go over to seriously take a look at it? Yep, big For Sale sign right up front. Here are a few pictures.
Walking around the property, I was able to really think through my dream, standing right there…right where it could actually happen. There are 10 small cottages and two small-house type structures on about 3.5 acres with 700’ waterfront footage and two docks with 16 boat slips, and then another 4 acres of undeveloped land across the street. All the structures, as well as the docks, are in good solid shape; they just need some TLC and cosmetic enhancements. So what would I do with it? The cottages would remain just as they were initially meant to be used, for lodging. They are all about efficiency size, though I’d put double queens in each for bedding to allow for more flexibility. I’d renovate one of the larger buildings into a classroom/workshop space and the other into a café/gallery space with “front office” facilities. I’d use the facility as a whole for all-inclusive art retreats, wellness retreats, and corporate team-building retreats. While the cottages are not being used for retreats, the facility would essentially be a B&B, targeting couples and/or corporate bigwigs looking for a unique, peaceful getaway. We’d have charter fishing services available for both the retreat attendees (thinking bored husbands/boyfriends here) and B & B guests. We’d subdivide the property across the street so it remains deeded separately from the “business” property since that’s where we’d build our houses.
I have a close friend I’ve been thinking this through with. Kath has been a high level exec with Coca-Cola since we graduated from college and is ready to escape from the corporate world. We are the perfect team for this. I have the retreat planning, leadership, team-building, and art background, and she has the wellness, business and corporate contacts background. Our husbands would handle the excursions, dining and general maintenance aspects. She also has twin boys who would grow up having the hots for my twin redheads. 🙂
So back to Madame Universe and her connection to the property and my current employment. As I was driving over to see the property, I got the call to schedule my final interview for my position of choice. Then, boom. The next morning, there’s this big For Sale sign staring me in the face. My dream, right there ready to happen. That was a Friday; my interview was scheduled for first thing Monday morning. Interesting timing, don’t you think? When I didn’t get the offer for the campus I wanted, that For Sale sign popped back into my head. Maybe that was part of my message that a new job was not the right thing for me right now. I’ve always been one to follow my gut, and once my top choice was off the table, I knew I needed to stay where I was.
So what’s next? What’s next is to just keep the dream alive while we work through the possibilities. The property is currently listed for $1.6 million, but given the economy, the amount of time it’s been sitting there, the fact the most others interested in it would probably be knocking down what’s there and starting from scratch, and what I’ve learned from others who have property in the area, I think we could get them down under $1 million. So we’ll see what happens. Initially I hesitated sharing my thoughts with you here, because once you put it out there, it’s out there, right? But then I realized that if you don’t share your dreams with others, how can they help you get there? This particular piece of property may work out, and it may not, but it’s made me realize that I can do this…if not with this property, then with another. For now, though, baby steps. Still working out the details on my first baby steps, but I’ll share those with you soon! In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on my initial plan.
The dog days of summer are upon us, and the leaves of my gerbera daisies have browned along the edges, having long given up having the energy to bloom. These dog days bring about the start of Fall term in my world, which usually brings about a renewed sense of energy for me. Yet this year, it has not. Today is the first day of Fall term, and instead of feeling invigorated and ready for the start of a new year, I’m tired, hot, overscheduled and, as I set up a tent and lugged around 30 cases of water and drinks for Welcome Back at 7:30 this morning, sorely missing my staff person whose position was recently eliminated.
I spent a good part of the weekend doing what I so rarely do: absolutely nothing but sit on the couch and watch movies (well okay, in between six loads of laundry and a few updates on my website). I really needed that down time. The girls lounged around with me, and DH took some good long naps, not feeling well. Over the course of the weekend, I did a lot of thinking about what’s important and what’s not…what’s needed to keep me happy and what just weighs me down. Being overscheduled is nothing new in my world, and as a working mother, much of it is out of my hands, but I’ve hit the point where I need to take some things back to make the required parts of the juggle a little more manageable. I find that I probably spend a little too much time online, and while some of that is necessary to manage my online business presence and keep up with good friends who are far away, some of it is voluntary. It’s those voluntary parts I need to let go of to make room for those more important things…like more time with my kids and more time to make art just for me and no one else, the kind of art I don’t have to worry about keeping an inventory of for the Riverside Arts Market and my juried shows…the kind of art I can make with my girls…the kind of art that just lets me play without feeling the pressure of a deadline.
One of those voluntary things I’ll be letting go of is my role as team leader for our North Florida Craft Revolution Etsy team. I’m proud of the blog I created and manage for the team, but I’m also tired of having it all rest on me; I spend more time on the team blog than I do marketing my own work, and that seems a bit backwards, don’t you think? Another of those things is this weekly challenge. I’ve enjoyed keeping it going, yet submissions have dwindled without that $10 Amazon prize carrot, and it’s become a struggle to make sure there’s at least one entry each week. I do this with a catch in my heart because I’ve gained much through this community, but my time is becoming more and more precious. So with this, I bid you adieu, weekly challenge. Should someone else want to take over the coordination, I’ll participate when I can.
It’s scary to let things go sometimes, isn’t it? I know it is for me. Since I’ve started blogging I’ve come across more and more blogs that talk about being true to your authentic self. I have to admit, at first I thought that was a bunch of baloney. I’m very much a “what you see is what you get” and “it is what it is” kinda girl. Yet there are pieces of that authenticity movement, if you want to call it that, that have hit home with me. And maybe the biggest part is taking charge of your life, doing the things that mean the most to you, letting go of the things that don’t matter, and finding that balance between managing your day-to-day real life while still reaching for your dreams. It’s in my nature to juggle, so I know that won’t change, but I am working towards not having quite so many balls in the air at once.
This installment of the Open House brings self-assessment and emergency care; says goodbye to the old and anticipates the new; and throws in a dash of brotherly love. So grab your preferred cup of joe, or bob or serena (my name for herbal tea) and read about Jacqui, Alana, Suzanne,Tracy, Elizabeth, Johanna, Liz, Jen, and Brittany. Enjoy!