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Ingrid: When Sugar and Creativity Collide

Editor’s note: Ingrid Kirkegaard is a writer and independent consultant specializing in education. The mother of two, she lives in North London and blogs at Dutch Courage. Try not to be intimidated by the fact that Ingrid studied French and Dutch literature at Cambridge University, graduating with a First, and then wrote her doctorate at Oxford University, among other academic accomplishments. Some weeks ago, Ingrid shared a few interesting tidbits on a Monday Post, and I asked her to expand on her ideas. Don’t miss the free template of Ingrid’s log that you can download and adapt to your own needs at the end of this post!


Ingrid Kirkegaard“I will get up at 6:00 am and do one task towards my book.” This sounds like detention, but in fact it’s setting an intention.

I am a writer. Here’s the record. There’s stuff I published as an academic. Then there’s an abandoned academic book; an abandoned novel; and now the attempt to finish another nonfiction book. I have been working on it for four and a half years.

I can give all the usual reasons for my failure to complete — mortgage, children, day job(s), international relocation. They’re pretty big, and there’s no question they soak up my time — but they are not the real reasons I have struggled for so long with writing.

Unfortunately for me, I am a perfectionist and a procrastinator. There is little to be proud of in these qualities. The public manifestation of them is that, unless there is a deadline, I cannot produce. The private hell is that I believe that what I produce is worthless.

It’s like standing up in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, confessing that out loud. So I might as well go the whole hog.

For me, there is a third dimension. The amount of sugar I consume is a direct index of my perfectionism and procrastination. I eat sugar, even though I know it’s bad for me, because I know it’s bad for me, when I do not know what to do next. Giving up sugar would mean… having to be honest with myself, facing the pain, and doing something about it.

Work space

Work area #1: My desk belonged to my mother and father, and was one of the first items they bought when they got together in Holland in the 1960s. It doesn’t fit into our small house, but I cannot bear to part with it!

But this feels impossible, so I have found another, kinder, way. Enter — The Sugar Log.

When I went on holiday this summer, I decided to aim for three things: to go cold turkey on sugar for that week; to write for an hour early every morning; and to maintain a log.

To my absolute amazement, I managed to do the writing and stay off the sugar — even though the family wafted ice cream and biscuits under my nose. Keeping that log really helped me. It had several columns: I set out a writing task; the date; what went well/what didn’t and why; next steps; writing notes; and a sugar confessional. When I’d finished writing for the day, I set the task for the next day.

The idea of keeping a reflections log wasn’t new to me, but what made me try it for myself was seeing someone elses. It was the amazing intimacy of reading another person’s very rough thoughts about her own work, all neatly compartmentalized in spreadsheet columns, that I found inspiring. I could see at a glance the way her thinking had progressed over time; it really helped me to see that she kept her daily goals very small; and it really, really helped me to see that her doubts and confusions were the same as mine — but contained.

Since coming back from holiday, I’ve kept the log and the cold turkey going. I can see now that it’s possible to stay (mainly) off the sweet stuff, and not to panic, even if I can’t work for that crucial hour first thing. If I fall off the wagon and munch on chocolate, it is also not the end of the world. Because I can still set my intention and try again.

Work space

Work space #2: Our lovely dining table, with its very sensible oilcloth covering. I love that tablecloth!

The log is different from my to do list and my online calendar, which sustain the grind of domestic life. The log is about my working process, and holding myself to account.

And even taking a little pleasure in the process.

I’ve noticed I am calmer, even though I’m hugely busy at the moment. Spelling out what’s going on defuses all the pressure. Keeping it to myself means I deal with that pressure without leaning on others. The log is like a daily postcard to myself — not too detailed, but a little bit of kindly attention being paid to my mental processes.

This is a little turning point on the long road I’ve been on since becoming a mother and stopping being a professional academic. It is a road that has involved working to excess, falling into depression, learning how to dance, falling in love with yoga, and gradually, gradually understanding Marcel Proust’s crucial insight, that we are embodied creatures caught in time. What we get done is what we get done in time. Perfection has nothing to do with it.

A screen shot of Ingrid’s Work Log appears below (click on the image for a more readable view). For a free Excel template of her log that you can adapt to your own preferences download this file: The Sugar Log. Many thanks, Ingrid!

How about you? Do you find a connection between your consumption of sugar and your creative output? Share with us in the comments!

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Think you don’t have time for a daily creative practice? Think again

Rick DaddarioEditor’s note: Last December, we received a thought-provoking set of comments on a Monday Post from reader Rick Daddario. Rick, an artist based in Hawaii, had a lot of useful and inspiring things to say about maintaining a daily creative practice. With Rick’s permission, I’m reposting his remarks here. I think you’ll find several gems among these wise words; recommended reading.

timeI agree enthusiastically with the idea of creating daily. I know personally for me when I do not create for a day or two I begin to feel quite “off” in many ways. That can lead to a downward spiral for me. So I find a way to create every day. Writing, taking photographs, working with digital technology or traditional materials — it all counts for me.

I’ve also learned that my day works best if I follow patterns. I’m not die-hard about my patterns, though. It’s easy to shift them on one day when needed and they evolve over time too allow me to fit in the things I need to do around my creating rather than my creating around what I need to do.

As a pattern, I find a way to work with my digital technology each day even though I do not post every day necessarily.

When I decide to get into the traditional materials I find that daily practice is extremely important as well. Sometimes I need to start out slow: 5-minute drawings; 15- to 30-minute paintings. After a few days to a week of this it’s hard to stop at 5 minutes or half an hour and I let my times increase as needed.

Scheduling time is a good way to commit yourself to a practice. Although I’ve found I’m quite contrary and tend to push my times around as needed. I know if I say I will do something to myself I often do the opposite. The doing is what is important however, and I find a way to do my art even if I have to stay up an extra half hour to an hour before sleeping. Yes, I will work tired if that is how I have to get my time in.

Some other ways I’ve heard that work for people and I’ve tried and found fun:

  • When I’m clearing the table after breakfast say, as one of my jobs, I will daily do a sketch of the breakfast table (or one item on it or any part of it) just as I’ve left it before clearing it. It’s a way for me to allow myself the time to draw. I have to draw before I do the dishes or I lose my visual. I may set a timer if I need to limit my time but the commitment to drawing that table or any part of it gives me the permission to sit and draw BEFORE I do the dishes. Way fun on that. This kind of practice can be used with any task, per the bullets below.
  • Shopping: Draw/photograph the shopping bags before you put everything away (maybe the milk and frozen items can go in the fridge and then I draw). You can take an item or two out to draw too. Still life with packages, bottles, cans, or fresh veggies/fruits.
  • Weeding: Draw/photograph the tools before you weed (after, I’m usually a bit dusty mucky).
  • Gardening, as in watering and general: A bouquet of flowers or the veggies/fruit etc. that you pick are great subjects.
  • Laundry: The pile of clothes. Or clothes hug up to dry. Or folded.
  • Kids’ toys: One a day. Or as they lay. Or as they look put away.
  • Seasonal: Gift wrapping: before, during, or after wrapping a present.

When it’s writing rather than drawing/painting/photos that I’m after the same practice can work. Write from the moments the items suggest themselves or the thoughts that come up while you were working. Write of that moment or something those items bring up in a memory, or fantasize. . . .

I’m sure you get the idea.

Once I make creating part of my daily life it’s like any other job or chore I have to do. My day is not done until I do it. And if it’s fun, I’ll want to do it again. So I do what is fun for me. I play with line, or light, or shapes, or color etc. If it’s writing, I may play with writing forms, or shotgun writings, or 55-word short stories, etc. Way fun on that. And seasonal fun on all too.

I am passionate about creating daily. Even 5 minutes count — writing, drawing, or painting. 10 or 15 minutes even better. Just do it, though. That’s what what is important. Start. Just start and do it.

Don’t think you can draw/write something in 5 minutes?? Try this: Set a timer for 1 minute. See how much you can draw (or write on) something in 1 minute. When the timer goes off, click it and start on a new page again on the same thing. Again when the timer goes off, click it and repeat the process until you have 5 drawings (or 5 sentences or observations in words). Try to push yourself to get more down each time. The light, the shape edges, the lines. Now set the timer for 5 minutes and see how much you can get down. That’s a total of 10 minutes — but once you understand that you actually can get the entire thing down in some way in 5 minutes you can do this with anything and take only 5 minutes (or 10 when you have it).

We all have hurry-up-and-wait times. The doctor’s office, picking up a child from school or play time, the bus stop (local and long distance), car pool, train and plane ports. Bring your pencil and pad (hard back, double wired, small like 6 x 6 is my preference — or my iPad with drawing apps) and sketch/draw/write for 5 minutes.

Sit in the car and draw before you go in to shop, a hair appointment, the dentist, the visit with a friend. Or even on your way to work.

At one time I got so I’d leave 5 minutes early just so I could flip my pad open and draw. Then it was 15 minutes early to any activity and half an hour to 45 minutes early to work (at a photo lab). I could stop along the way or in the parking lot finding different views even there each day. Or sit on a bench or low wall on the walk to work.

Eventually I had to set a time when I stopped like this or I’d end up running over time and become late for my appointment or work — that happened once and I started the timer idea. Even then I’d push the timing, though.

It made my day to get a drawing in before work and then one after work that could be untimed. After work the drawing times were often shorter because I was tired. However, I felt a lot better for sitting and letting go in a drawing (or writing) for those few minutes.

Yeah, get me rambling along these lines and I reel out the things that are fun fun for me.

Aloha.

— Rick

Check out Rick’s work at his blog and his website. Thank you, Rick!

Meme of the Week

If you marry meme....

Happy Friday.

:::::

Making Creative Hay Outside

Enjoy this seasonal reprint from the archives!

If it’s summertime in your part of the world — or if you live in a mild climate and enjoy fair weather more often than not — think about using outside resources to your creative advantage. When younger kids are out of school, making outdoor time a regular part of your routine can yield many benefits. We often end up spending time indoors just because it seems easier than setting up camp outside. But don’t let the force of habit inhibit your summertime fun and creativity.

If you have a yard of your own, make the most of this bonus. If you have a fenced-off space — even a small one — so much the better. Many mothers are able to sit on a lawn chair and write, read, or sketch while their kids play safely nearby. You can peruse that stack of magazines you haven’t read yet — any reading material that is easy to put down as needed. Outdoor time is also a great opportunity to take photographs of your kids or the world around you.

To stack the odds in your favor, use this four-pronged approach to outdoor (and indoor) downtime:

  1. Make sure everyone is well fed, watered, and toileted.
  2. Spend some time totally focused on the kids.
  3. When the kids seem engaged or playing independently after having some Mommy face time, turn to your creative work.
  4. Try to remain flexible. There will be days when the kids don’t want you staring at a notebook for even 30 seconds, and there will be other days when they’re happily immersed in their own worlds for 30 minutes. Go with the flow.

If your inventory of outdoor toys seems insufficient, yard sales and consignment shops are great places to pick up a few more. You might also send an e-mail to friends with older children to ask if they have anything hiding in their garages or attics that they no longer want.

Many toddlers and young children love to play with water. Consider filling a small kiddie pool with a few inches of water and a bunch of bath or beach toys — often good for at least 30 minutes of interest. For other outdoor play activities, do a bit of google searching and jot down the ideas you like best.

Food always seems to be more fun outdoors, too. Whether it’s just a snack in the backyard or a full-on picnic basket in the middle of a field, eating outside makes everyone happy.

When you’re headed to the park and your kids are old enough to play safely without constant supervision and won’t walk in front of the swings, don’t forget to bring a notepad, sketchbook, or something else to spend time with while you keep one eye on the children. You may find that it’s worth going out of your way to visit a playground that is fully enclosed and is equipped with a good amount of safe climbing structures to keep your kids entertained.

While you don’t want your kids to feel like you’re constantly on standby, waiting to bolt off to your own thing, you do want to be prepared to squeeze in some creative work when the opportunity arises. Over time, you’ll find the middle way that feels best for your and your family.

What works for you? Share your experience!

The Artist at Work: Do You Welcome the Family, or Bar the Door?

The Daily WriterI enjoy starting my daily morning writing practice by reading a page in Fred White’s daybook The Daily Writer: 366 Meditations to Cultivate a Productive and Meaningful Writing Life. Today’s entry was particularly relevant to our scope here at Studio Mothers, whatever your medium. Here’s the excerpt:

August 30: Dealing with Family Interference

Writers mostly work at home, and that can pose a problem, especially if the writer has children. To ensure against quarrels or having the kids or the spouse feel neglected, the writer in the family needs to negotiate (not mandate like some dictator) ground rules. Another approach is to open your study to the kids. Introduce them to your work, explain your project to them in ways they’ll both understand and appreciate. You might even invite them to hang around and watch you working (about as unexciting as can be imagined for most children); it makes them feel more a part of you and gain more of an internal understanding of why you need to work uninterrupted. The opposite approach, making your study off limits, giving it the impression of being The Forbidden Zone, might prove just as effective superficially, but doesn’t do much to foster family togetherness.

Perhaps the best way to handle family interference is to let them interfere in the sense of making them feel welcome in your inner sanctum. There’s a memorable photograph of JFK at work in the Oval Office with four-year-old John-John frolicking at his feet. Children can better intuit how best to behave around a working parent once they feel that they’re included rather than excluded.

How about you? Do you include your children and/or your spouse in your creative work? What’s best for you and your family?

Making Creative Hay Outside

During August, I’ll be sharing a few choice tidbits from the archives. Enjoy!

If it’s summertime in your part of the world — or if you live in a mild climate and enjoy fair weather more often than not — think about using outside resources to your creative advantage. When younger kids are out of school, making outdoor time a regular part of your routine can yield many benefits. We often end up spending time indoors just because it seems easier than setting up camp outside. But don’t let the force of habit inhibit your summertime fun and creativity.

If you have a yard of your own, make the most of this bonus. If you have a fenced-off space — even a small one — so much the better. Many mothers are able to sit on a lawn chair and write, read, or sketch while their kids play safely nearby. You can peruse that stack of magazines you haven’t read yet — any reading material that is easy to put down as needed. Outdoor time is also a great opportunity to take photographs of your kids or the world around you.

To stack the odds in your favor, use this four-pronged approach to outdoor (and indoor) downtime:

  1. Make sure everyone is well fed, watered, and toileted.
  2. Spend some time totally focused on the kids.
  3. When the kids seem engaged or playing independently after having some Mommy face time, turn to your creative work.
  4. Try to remain flexible. There will be days when the kids don’t want you staring at a notebook for even 30 seconds, and there will be other days when they’re happily immersed in their own worlds for 30 minutes. Go with the flow.

If your inventory of outdoor toys seems insufficient, yard sales and consignment shops are great places to pick up a few more. You might also send an e-mail to friends with older children to ask if they have anything hiding in their garages or attics that they no longer want.

Many toddlers and young children love to play with water. Consider filling a small kiddie pool with a few inches of water and a bunch of bath or beach toys ~ often good for at least 30 minutes of interest. For other outdoor play activities, do a bit of google searching and jot down the ideas you like best.

Food always seems to be more fun outdoors, too. Whether it’s just a snack in the backyard or a full-on picknick basket in the middle of a field, eating outside makes everyone happy.

When you’re headed to the park and your kids are old enough to play safely without constant supervision and won’t walk in front of the swings, don’t forget to bring a notepad, sketchbook, or something else to spend time with while you keep one eye on the children. You may find that it’s worth going out of your way to visit a playground that is fully enclosed and is equipped with a good amount of safe climbing structures to keep your kids entertained.

While you don’t want your kids to feel like you’re constantly on standby, waiting to bolt off to your own thing, you do want to be prepared to squeeze in some creative work when the opportunity arises. Over time, you’ll find the middle way that feels best for your and your family.

What works for you? Share your experience!

Creating in the Middle of Things

How many years pass while we wait for the “right” time to do something? Even after decades of adulthood, many of us still believe that one day — in the not too distant future — somehow, eventually, ideal circumstances will arrive at our doorstep. We’ll wake up one morning and say “Yes! It’s finally here! That day I’ve been waiting for, when my to-do list is all crossed off, my in-box is empty, the house is spotless, the kids are occupied elsewhere, and the time has come to do X!” If this day ever does come, it probably doesn’t amount to more than once or twice in an entire year. So why are we still waiting?

Eric Maisel, creativity guru (and one of my former teachers at the Creativity Coaching Association), is a proponent of “creating in the middle of things.” This framework is perhaps the only way to stop perpetually deferring ourselves with an imaginary carrot.

I have learned in recent years that I am ALWAYS in the middle of things. There is nothing BUT the middle of things. As someone who continually heaps mounds of responsibilities and projects onto her plate, if I wait for the seas to part and reveal some magical “opportunity” for me to create, I’ll die waiting.

I’ve finally learned to stop saying “I just need to get through this week/month/season.” In the well-worn words of John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” So long as I see daily life as some kind of obstacle between me and what I really want to be doing, I’m living in a very dark and unsatisfying place. How many moments have I wasted by trying to “just get through it” while staying focused on some mirage of future calm like a brilliantly wrapped gift, eternally beyond my reach? The present moment can’t be the obstacle. That’s insanity — and many of us seem to be afflicted.

I encourage myself, and you, to fully embrace the concept of creating in the middle of things — because for most of us, that’s the only way to create. Even my clients who have no children and no work obligations still find themselves with an overfull calendar and difficulty “making” time to create. In fact, one client who has no children or job says she can’t get her creative work done because her pets distract her too much. Regardless of our circumstances, we are always in the middle of something, aren’t we? It doesn’t matter what our details are.

If we have an overflowing, double-booked planner on one hand, and a paradigm of “I can only create if I have five hours of guaranteed solitude on deck” on the other, then we either need to get very serious about going to a cave every day, or we need to figure out how to change our parameters about what’s possible.

There are strategies that help. Always having a notepad on hand while out of the house. Knowing what the “next step” is in any given project so that we’re ready to jump right in. (See Emma-Jane’s wisdom at left for visual artists.) Staying connected to creative networks to bolster of creative sense of self. Keeping an ongoing list of all the projects we’d like to work on so that inspiration is always a glance away. If we have children, learning how to create WITH them (either alongside them or in collaboration). Allowing ourselves to make the most of creative practice even if we end up deviating from that “next step” plan. And most importantly, always keeping our eyes open for slivers of opportunity.

In Eric Maisel’s words: “If we intend to create we really should be checking in with ourselves several times a day (not a few times a week or a few times a month) with the question, ‘How about now?’ Sometimes we will answer no and sometimes we will answer yes, but if we answer yes only a quarter of the time and we are checking in with ourselves four times a day, then we will create every day. We should check in with ourselves as soon as we wake up, in case THAT is a good time, as soon as we get home from wherever, in case THAT is a good time, when an empty hour suddenly looms up in front of us, in case THAT is a good time, after dinner and before television, in case THAT is a good time, and so on.”

Are you checking with yourself?

“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.”
~Napoleon Hill

This piece was reprinted from the last issue of the Creative Times, our monthly newsletter. Click here to subscribe!

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