Friday, 4 January 2013

Take Ten!

It’s been quite a while since I’ve attended to my blog and for that, many apologies. Between health issues and demands of work (even thought it’s freelance, it’s still work) I’ve not had much energy for more than the required. So that is today’s blog: being ok with doing what you can and enjoying taking a break.
Many creative people envision doing two to three times more than is humanly possible when they consider their projects. Unfortunately, that doesn’t do much other than wear us out. And, when hit with an illness, we often don’t have many reserves to draw on.
When it became apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to maintain my pace and get well, it was time to revamp the calendar and ditch the extra things that drained my energy reserves. This ridding out is a good practice even when we aren’t ill. Making sure that we learn to say ‘no’ to things that are attractive but stretch us too far is an important skill to acquire. Not every shiny thing that comes along really does need our attention. Be able to discern what is a ‘shiny thing’ and what is a legitimate pursuit take some practice. It’s not always easy to see, but you must learn to realistically see what will enhance your long-term goals and what will be a temporary distraction from those goals (however enjoyable). You have to weigh up the value of taking that distraction or sticking to your plans. It takes thought and careful consideration.
Another thing I’ve been reminded of during these last few months is to learn to relax and also to let go. By the beginning of the new year I had originally envisioned many paintings finished, new chapters written in my book, weekly blogs maintained while also attending classes and creating various gifts for Christmas for my family and friends. In the midst of all this, there were some things that came up that afforded me some income and I had to attend to those. But when it was apparent that many of these envisioned plans were not going to happen, setting my mind into a state of acceptance had to be achieved and one way to do that was that my priorities had to be redefined.
Priorities can be a tricky thing; do we maintain the same priorities at all times, at all costs, or do we allow them to be more malleable and fluid? The rigidity of priorities can be a good thing in some circumstances, but in others it can be too costly. I had to decide which was more important, fulfilling my list of goals or taking a break from them in order to be able to function at maximum ability. It was possible to have continued and met all the self and externally imposed deadlines, but the quality would have suffered greatly and I would be in the same situation of being ill and struggling to get things done. With that realisation came the acceptance to just do what I could and not worry about what wasn’t getting done. It really would keep.
So, the priorities were shifted, the deadlines rearranged and a new schedule was instituted ... one that allowed for a real break even though I didn’t go anywhere for holidays. Sometimes we need to let our minds rest as well as our bodies. Sometimes we do need to stop and smell the roses without trying to consider how we could paint them, incorporate them into a design or imagine how to write about the experience. Sometimes we must just be. An important element in creativity is refilling the well but not always do we refill the well by putting more stuff in. Although I do believe strongly in ‘priming the pump’ I also see that sometimes we have to allow ourselves to refill naturally and without external influence.
Letting things be is often difficult to do for creative people. We want to improve, embellish, reframe and enhance; that is a core element of our creativity. It is part of why we keep putting one more stroke on that painting, do one more edit of a poem or one attempt at getting the right note in a piece of music. But learning to stop and allow things to just be and enjoy them as they are for even a short time is an exercise that can be extremely beneficial to us creatively.  It allows us to absorb what it is that we find pleasing, satisfying and even inspiring. It allows us to more deeply feel and that allows us a chance to draw on this experience next time we are ready to create. One avenue of experiencing the joy of the ‘now’ is through meditation, which can be extremely beneficial on all levels of our lives: creatively as well as health-wise (mentally and physically). There are many different forms of meditation available and through experimentation you can find the form that is right for you.
So, it’s not a waste of time to take a break, to rest and to recuperate; in many ways, it is imperative to creativity. What we create in robust energy is usually much more full and satisfying for all than what we create in exhaustion.  
This next year will be a busy one for me creatively and I will also be returning to America for a couple of months to be with family. For the reasons all stated above, the blog will occur only once a month as part of my maintaining a workable balance. This break has been helpful to me in many ways including realising how much I missed exploring and sharing ideas about how to enhance the creative experience.
 So ‘take ten’ from time to time and fully enjoy it. Also, a happy New Year to all and may it be a most creative and happy one!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Prime the Pump

Prime the pump---I had to explain this saying recently, but I think it is a good analogy for getting yourself ready to create especially when you're not feeling that creative. When a water pump is dry, water from another source has to be poured into it to get it to function properly, to start pumping and allowing the water to flow. Also it is an analogy for when something is low, such as money--more money has to be put into a venture in order to get it to generate more money. Sometimes we need to use a little of something already there to get us going. So, what are some techniques that we can use to ‘prime our creative pumps’?
What exactly is priming? For creativity there are a lot of different ways. One way is to immerse yourself in others’ creative outcomes. Surround yourself in works that have already been done, by yourself or by others. Take a trip to an art gallery or museum. Go to the library or a book store and peruse all sorts of books. Go to a concert. Listen to music that you really enjoy or try out some new type of music. Dance around the house to music that you love. Read magazines or books that have lots of visually pleasing images. Get yourself in touch with any creative process.
Take a walk to view your surroundings looking at ways to incorporate what you see into new forms. Observe what is around you with a wonder and artistic eye. Take segments of common things and see if they can be made into motifs or patterns. Observe moments that can tell a story. One of my favourite techniques is to take a notebook and go to a coffee shop. With my cup of coffee and pen and paper, I observe, make sketches and write observations. I can then go home and conjure up new projects from those seeds of ideas.
I have found too that reading biographies of other creative people can be inspiring. You can also learn how they overcame certain difficulties or what their processes were. Reading Georgia O’Keeffe’s biography inspired me to create three new fabric pieces that utilized her concepts of art. The biography of architect Frank Lloyd Wright inspired me to create some pieces that focused on motifs of nature. When experiencing these activities, keep your mind open for new sparks of perceiving ordinary things in a little bit different way.
Another way of priming the pump is by being around other creative people. Sometimes the energy generated by like-thinking people can inspire you, stretch your imagination and take you into new areas of creativity that you might not generate on your own. This community of creativity has been borne out many times throughout history as we have seen many styles of art emerging from groups of artists coming together to pool their creative resources. The combination of other minds can be the ‘primer’ that is needed to get things flowing.
An important thing about priming your pump is what is going on in your head! This is a time to open up for possibilities. This is about not stressing; it is about relaxing and being in the bliss of creating. Remember, creativity is ALL practice. Examine what thoughts you are having when you are getting ready to prime the creative pump. Are they helpful or unhelpful?

Here are some examples of unhelpful thoughts: I can’t do that kind of painting; his writing is so much better than mine; everyone would laugh if I tried to do that; mine wouldn't as good as Frank’s piece; I’m wasting my time trying to be that good.
Who the heck would do anything thinking like that? And where is the space to be inspired?
Here are some helpful ways to approach your priming: what new ways can I look at this idea; how open can I be to new ideas; what if…?; practice is important after inspiration but today I’m just here for inspiration; no preconceived notions, just openness; perfection is a myth that obscures true beauty.
Don’t engage in ‘yeah, buts’. Those are the discounting phrases that combine ‘yeah’ with ‘but’: ‘yeah, that’s really nice but I can’t paint like that’ or ‘yeah, that’s a great piece of music but I could never write anything like that.’ Going into priming with a quantitative and qualitative mindset won’t leave you open to new ideas. Check yourself when you hear those phrases coming up. Go into priming with an open mind—you have no idea what you might discover when you’re open. It may be a seed that you’ll grow later, but the seed has to be gathered in the first place for it to be planted at any time.
Remember though, priming the pump is not just about ‘thinking’; it's also about ‘doing’. So, get out there and get the creativity flowing!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

But That’s Too Hard!

Quite often we know we need to do some creative work, we want to do some creative work, but we don’t turn off that game show on the TV and get off the sofa to do it. What could be keeping us from doing what we really would enjoy more? That old bugga-boo ‘fear’.  There are lots of components to what we are afraid of when it comes to a creative block but one of the fears is that what we want to do will be too hard for us.
If we deem ourselves not to be capable or competent enough for what we are envisioning, then the task we want to undertake appears insurmountable. We stand at the bottom of that creative mountain unable to move. The doubt that we’ll make a mess of any attempt we undertake or that once it is done it will fall short of our vision stymies our first move. And we don’t have to know how bad that piece will be if we never make it.
One of the things that will help us scale down the momentousness of what we want to do is talk to ourselves in a helpful manner. Someone I know often looks at work that I’m doing and says, ‘Why are doing that? It looks so hard.’ I try not to look at the difficulty but the beauty of what I’m making. My focus is not on how hard it is to make something or how long it will take or how much frustration I will experience along the way. Instead, I focus on the satisfaction that will come with the finished product, the joy of the process itself, the sense of mastery  that comes from completing a difficult task (even if it took me twenty times to get it there) and being willing to make mistakes along the way.
When you consider a creative venture do you first see difficulty and roadblocks to accomplishing your goal? What phrases are you using to discount these ideas? Are you saying things like ‘That’s too hard;’ ‘No way could I do a whole painting like that;’ or ‘There’s no way I could write an entire book’ ? If so, then some challenges to those automatic negative responses are in order.
If you say ‘That’s too hard,’ break down what it is you think is so difficult: is it the style, the size, the colours you want to use, the time you’d have to commit to completing something? Figuring out what part is really scaring you allows you to focus on a challenge or a solution to that. If it’s how to mix the colours, then you can spend some time just learning how to do that and then tackle the project. If it is the size,  then talk to yourself about how you can only paint one stroke at a time any way so that’s all you’d be doing. But first, when you say to yourself ‘that’s too hard’ remember to answer with ‘yes, it may be hard, but not that hard’. Or, ‘it may be hard, but I am ready for the challenge’.  Remind yourself that you are capable and competent and that each venture is another chance to improve.
I think it’s ok to acknowledge the difficulty of a task. But to follow with an encouragement is the key. Talking to your self as your own personal cheerleader (without the gymnastics and shouting) is how to get through a tough project. Using phrases like ‘this may seem hard but with practice it will be easier’ and  ‘this may be hard but I’m willing to make the effort’ will carry you a lot further than the defeatist lament (to be said with a whine) ‘this is too hard!’ If I find my self saying a lot of times while working ‘Man, this is really difficult!’  I then have to follow it with ‘but I’m going to keep making the effort.’ And with that encouragement, the piece gets done!
Another aspect of the ‘it’s too big, too difficult, too much’ syndrome is to remember to break things down into smaller chunks. Like the old joke: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. That is how you do any art piece: one bit at a time. We don’t start with the whole painting; we don’t start with the whole novel instead we start with a sketch, a few ideas, a line here and a line there. We start building with one piece at a time. Remembering to break it down in your head as well as with your hands into one small piece at a time helps us from getting overwhelmed with the entire project.
It’s ok to step back from time to time and see where you’re going. When you do, you’ll be surprised to find how far you’ve come. And hopefully your thought will be, ‘that wasn’t so hard after all!’

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Remember Your Inner Silliness

Recently I read a quote from Eckhart Tolle that said ‘When you lose touch with your inner stillness, you lose touch with yourself.’ In my own just-skimming-the-text way, I read it as ‘When you lose touch with your inner silliness, you lose touch with yourself.’ I did a double take as it didn’t sound at all like Eckhart Tolle; but upon reflection, I like my version better. We do indeed need to stay in touch with our inner silliness. It can be an extremely important part of our creativity as well as our overall well-being!
Creative work can be fun. It can be satisfying. But it can also be quite difficult and feel like an uphill struggle. If we forget to have fun, to add a bit of silliness to our lives, then we are drudgery incarnate! And drudgery stifles creativity. Even if our creative work is something sombre and serious, we need to indulge in a bit of fun to keep ourselves balanced.  Actually, I ought to say that especially if your work is sombre and serious do you need to engage in jocularity.
When you do your creative warm-ups, try adding a touch of silliness from time to time. If you are a musician, play a silly tune; a writer, a limerick that is absurd; a painter, draw something whimsical, etc. Deliberating being silly can open up levels of creativity that you didn’t realize were there. The serious ‘I’ve got to create’ can sometimes block us from doing just that, making the wonderful.
There have been studies done to show that humour and fun can improve one’s creativity. With laughter or a sense of fun, the brain releases endorphins and these endorphins help us to relax and allow creativity to flow more easily. When brainstorming, it seems that the more ridiculous the ideas get the more ideas you have and that leads to coming up with some real gems
There is also something called ‘Laughter Yoga’ which is used to not only relieve stress, depression and for pain control, but it has been found to be a useful tool for boosting creativity. I’ve actually taken part in a laughter yoga exercise and it was really helpful for my creativity. At first it felt absurd to just be laughing while taking on different positions but after a while I just relaxed and the laughter became quite real.
I often feel very anxious before starting a new project. Using the centring techniques, breathing, etc. sometimes don’t seem to have the total desired effect. For those times, watching a few funny clips on YouTube or talking with my sister (who always makes me laugh) are other ways that I help to set myself in creative motion on those particularly tough days.
If you start your work with something fun, it’s less likely that you’ll avoid getting into your workroom or space and doing the work. And the fewer reasons you have to avoid doing your creative work, the more likely it is that you’ll get in there and create and thereby meet your goals. So every now and then, get in touch with your inner silliness because, to quote Oscar Wilde, ‘life is too important to be taken seriously.’

Friday, 28 September 2012

Clearing the Clutter

One of the aspects of being creative is that often we are interested in many things. Another aspect is that we are easily distracted by something that looks more interesting than meeting a deadline of any kind. But these same qualities can keep us from achieving our creativity goals. Sometimes we need to go through our lives and clean out the clutter, not just in things but in activities.
We are all familiar with the idea of spring cleaning but I think it’s also important to do a bit of autumn cleaning as well. Recently I realized that I was getting busier and doing lots of things but none of them were what I really wanted and needed to be doing creatively nor were they even things I needed to do for living maintenance. I was erasing creative time on my calendar for extraneous non-creative activities.
What had happened? I’d allowed my life to get cluttered with a lot of extraneous ‘to dos’. Granted they were all interesting and very worthwhile, but they were keeping me from meeting my real objectives. With courses starting as well as some work commitments, I felt something had to be done.
So, a friend and I sat down together (she was having similar problems) and looked at what we were doing in our lives. First of all we made lists under the various headings:
·         Daily activities (family, job, housework, school, leisure activities)
·         Commitments to outside special interest groups and activities
·         Creative goals and activities
We looked at what things really were priorities and what things were taking priority. It is important to sit down and make those distinctions. Next we underlined the things there were real priorities; everything else was a perceived priority. Then I drew a little bubble chart of how much time was being spent on priority items and how much time was spent on perceived priorities. Once you have these things in front of you visually (whether a list or a chart), it is easier to see how much time is being spent where.
Sometimes things take over our lives because we don’t know how to say ‘no’ and we put our own desires to the back burner. I’m not saying to tell your children to fix their own dinner or do their own laundry (unless, of course, they are teenagers and then it’s good training for when their move out!). What I’m saying is: are you putting yourself first creatively at times when you really can? If you find that most of your time is spent doing things for others that really could do themselves and you are feeling resentful, stressed and spread thin, it’s time to de-clutter your life. Just as you would clear out a closet, you can look at what activities can be let go of to allow you more freedom for what is truly important.
My friend and I both felt that we were doing things for a couple of voluntary groups at a level that was interfering with our own personal goals. While these organizations were worthwhile, it seemed that they were taking up a lot more time than the couple of hours a week we originally thought they would. There was one organization that I was serving as chair for and, even though I wasn’t doing much with regard to it, I felt that I should be doing more. The mental clutter of another ‘to do’ lurking in the back of my mind was interfering with actually doing anything creative! In this case, perceived priority was adding clutter to my activities.
My friend found that she had spent nearly 40 hours one week on a voluntary position with a group. It was keeping her from doing what she really needed to do which was tend to her own creative business (as a self-employed person that really should have been her priority). We both had taken on responsibilities reflecting worthwhile interests and which were meant to enhance our creativity; instead these things were taking over our lives in a negative way.
After taking stock of what I wanted to do, what I had to do and what I was doing (that’s another possibility of list headings for clarification), I found they were grossly unbalanced. The next question was ‘what can I do to make things more balanced in favour of creativity?’ The answer was to take at least a temporary leave from a couple of groups, resign as chair from another (three years is long enough to be chair), make arrangements for others to take over some responsibilities that they really could do but weren’t, politely excuse myself from involvement in activities that were not necessary for me and formulate a clearer schedule. Instead of blindly running along trying to ‘get things done,’ I had to stop and examine where I was spending my time; I found that I was frittering away a lot of creative time.
As I said above, the mental sense of things ‘to do’ can take a great toll. If a lot of your thinking is that you should be doing something other than what you are doing, it is time to take stock. Examining where things could be shifted around, what corners could be cut, what things do you really not need to be doing and what things are you doing because someone else won’t? It’s especially difficult when you spend most of your hours at a day job and then try to squeeze in creative time. Asking others to take over some duties that will free you up is not shirking your responsibility; it is sharing the work load more equitably. And if you are a happy creator, then everyone around you benefits from that!
So far the de-cluttering has freed up my thinking and has allowed me to tackle some creative pursuits that had gotten lost in the mess. And so far, the world is still spinning after I said ‘no’ and the groups understood my need to step back for my own well-being.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Happy Little Clouds Above Happy Little Trees

I want to share with everyone a video that I ran across recently. It follows on quite well with last week's goal check regarding beliefs. The words for this video were taken from many of the phrases painter and instructor Bob Ross used on his television show. The encouraging words are set to a catchy little tune that just gets me smiling. And so much of what he says is so true.

If you aren't familiar with Bob Ross, he was a staple of American public broadcasting for many years. He sold millions of books, videos, kits and instructional paraphernalia during his career that unfortunately was cut short in 1995. But his easy style, his gentle voice giving simple instruction has done much for many painters over the years whether they were serious artists or hobbyists, he brought a lot of joy to people. His kits can still be purchased (I saw some at LPC on Bishop Street just last week). I loved his encouragement, how he made 'happy little trees' and 'happy little clouds' and he didn't make mistakes, he just had happy accidents. But one of the things that he did emphasis over and over was about relaxing when creating, believing in our creating and knowing that you are the creator, not only of your artistic world, but your emotional and mental world.

So, not much today except to remember to enjoy creating and believe in your ability. Even if you're not a painter, this little video just leaves one feeling a little bit lighter, a little bit smiley-er! (I know it's not a real word but it is a real feeling!)

So, enjoy and sing along: I believe that any day's a good day when you create!

Friday, 7 September 2012

I Do Believe, I Do, I Do, I Do Believe in My Creativity

Making inferences or making evaluations determines what sorts of feelings we will have. When an event occurs a person has a reaction to the event. She may feel angry and that feeling is accompanied with angry thoughts. Then what the person does with those angry thoughts and feelings—her actions—impacts on results and that in turn affects what she thinks about herself.

Inferences that are evaluative become beliefs. Beliefs are not facts and it is up to us to determine if what we are telling ourselves is a fact or if it is a belief and then chose which we will invest in.

This is part of the cognitive process of establishing beliefs. Beliefs are an essential element to life; we all have beliefs, but it is whether these beliefs help us or hold us back that makes them important. These two types of beliefs can be called serviceable beliefs or unserviceable beliefs. Serviceable beliefs help us to have the perseverance to keep at our creative work. Unserviceable beliefs cause us to abandon a project just before it’s about to come to a successful point and stop us from trying.

Serviceable beliefs are flexible, have a realistic logic, and are based on things you’d like or prefer to have happen. Your sense of worth can be maintained if what you want or your aims aren’t achieved. Serviceable beliefs are supportive and encouraging; they help you move toward your goal. Another thing that serviceable beliefs help with is to assist in the understanding that an action is not automatically equated with the person; you are not a failure if you don’t measure up in one activity. Even if you don’t meet with success in many things, your value is not equated with an arbitrarily set standard of ‘success’ or ‘failure’. You can still be a loved, valued person if you don’t write a best-seller. You may carry some disappointment at not having achieved this but you are still valuable.

Unserviceable beliefs are rigid, unyielding, and dogmatic and are based on superlatives such as: must, have to, got to, need to, always, never. etc. Generally, unserviceable beliefs do not have a foundation in reality and tend to not allow other possibilities. They are overly critical and self-condemning. Unserviceable beliefs are usually stated in the form of a demand, not a request or suggestion. Holding these unserviceable beliefs undermines one’s feelings of worth which can impact our ability to create. A person thinking they are the worst singer in the world would keep them from developing their singing voice. They wouldn’t see any point because this unserviceable belief doesn’t allow for the possibility of improvement or attaining a satisfactory level.

It’s important to know what your own personal beliefs are concerning your creativity and abilities. A helpful tool would be to write down all your beliefs about your creativity, your abilities, and your drawbacks, the good and the bad. Take each belief and look at it carefully. Is it a belief that furthers your activities? Is it a belief that stops you from trying new things or finishing your work? Clarification of your beliefs helps you to identify some things that could be holding you back. Quiet often we are not aware of beliefs; often they exist as vague notions in the back of our mind, but we still affect how we think and what we do. So, clarifying these beliefs can allow you to bring the helpful beliefs to the forefront and look for ways to challenge the unhelpful ones.

Another way of manifesting these beliefs in a negative way are seen in ‘either/or” thinking or “all or nothing” thinking. If we believe that we have to be the best, and if we don’t believe our self to be the best so thereby we are the worst, we are engaging in an unserviceable belief system. If we think we have to complete a novel without any editing each time we sit down to write and don’t achieve that and just give up, then we’re engaging in unserviceable beliefs. These are unreasonable, limiting beliefs, but many people hold them.

However, if we believe that our creative efforts are worthwhile and have value in the mere fact that we’ve done them, we are engaging in a more serviceable belief system. We are engaging in a much more serviceable belief system if we embrace and accept the fact that a major part of creativity is engaging in the process, as well as making the mistakes, the edits and the changes. We a more helpful way is to nurture the belief and fact that we ourselves have value and our work has value, even if it isn’t “perfect”.