Ebb and flow

I found it encouraging yesterday to watch a Youtube video by a visual artist and composer, who talked about the ebb and flow of creativity in his life. It made me aware that I am not alone in facing the seemingly unstructured down times that seem to hem me in more often than I would ever wish.

Why do such things happen to us? Why do we periodically give up on art and creativity? Too busy? Too lethargic? Too overwhelmed with responsibility? Too sure our offerings will be meagre and imperfect and prove our own inadequacy? 

Probably all of the above.

What is the answer? Well, I think Julia Cameron, author of 'The Artist's Way,' devised a method of staying in tune with the creative self. The two things she recommended are daily 'morning pages' and a weekly 'artist's date.'

Morning pages are simple. Write three pages of unstructured, not-stopping, whatever is in your mind stuff. Preferably (you guessed it) every morning. These help get the gloop out of your brain, and get you into the flow. I found that mine were quite boring and often contained unimportant things like what I needed to remember to get from the store and who I had to see at three o'clock that day. But I persevered, and over time I started to see patterns. One was, how much I bash myself. The other was, how often I talk about the same problem, over and over again. Both led me to make adjustments. 

It's easier to look at someone you know or someone you are mentoring and see what they are capable of, and how often they hold back. We see their abilities, and as good friends, encourage them. And perhaps brush away their supportive comments about our own creative talent. 

I think a place to start is to first begin a gratitude journal or a gratitude practice, of listing ten things each day that we're grateful for... tea, chocolate cake, helpful people, the internet, my circa 1996 car which still starts, watermelon, box fans, my landlady's garden which I am free to enjoy, music, and the ability to binge watch on Netflix.

Then, the challenge is to get up every day and do the thing we have promised ourselves to do, no matter what. Walk in the rain, sit at the desk with an empty page in front of us, open the sketchpad, watch the next tutorial on Blender or Photoshop, or look for yet another youtube explaining what equalization (EQ) is and how do actually utilize it when mixing one's current composition.

But before that, even before engaging in the artform or the learning of skills or the practice with tools, are the basics. I hesitate to say this as it seems so mundane but since I watched a video that said artistic practice starts with this, and began to do it, I do feel like something shifted. The first thing I do when I get up is make my bed. Then I gather the tea cups and water glasses and take them to the kitchen, and do the dishes. Then I wash and dress. Then it's my walk.

I have resisted routine all my life. I feel it is boring, tedious, and I'd rather do anything but. However, engaging in these simple things every day, starting with a clean slate, opened me to the flow as much as any morning pages might do... even more... because in writing morning pages with unmade bed and messy kitchen, one has reasons to bash oneself, feel despondent, and decide to do anything else but bother to engage in art. 

It's good to be back in the flow. As part of this I finally looked at the manuscripts and notes from a novel I have been working on for some years, through more than one NaNoWriMo. I have scribbled on it here and there. Finally I said, let's take the best part, rewrite & edit it, and publish it. Finally. And then I said, let's make it a series. And then I said, book two will be a brand new story. And then I said, it will be published next month. Gulp.

My composing friends have often said, don't wait for inspiration. Keep working on it daily. This puts you in a state of readiness. This invites inspiration to visit. Do the work, and then you'll be inspired. ~

How time flies

I have been writing, and creating... but not blogging. It started with an adult colouring book, with comments and reflections by me, plus empty journal pages for the reader... and that lead to the creation of more. 

Helped by the fact that I know and enjoy design, learning the ropes of publishing my creations was kinda cool. I've sold a few now - no earth-shattering earnings (don't believe the hype on youtube, etc), but the joy of coming up with an idea, shaping it, laying it out, designing a cover - is its own reward.

The bulk of my work until now can be termed 'low content' (empty journals or recipe books) or 'medium content' (books where I provide some reflections or information, the rest is up to the reader). But I am now working on a 'high content' idea or two. 

One is non-fiction, and would be along the same lines as this, my blog, talking about the artistic journey. And I will wade into fiction as well - I have participated in 'NaNoWriMo' several times and have sketched out at least two novels because of it.

In all of this the challenge is to stay motivated, and stay working. There are a hundred distractions, and one thing I know about the creative instinct is that, as soon as you sit down to create something, a myriad of things you never think about (and could care less about), start shouting that they need attention.

If you'd like to look at what I've created so far, the list is here: eps typographics


The shrill call of the Naysayer

Besides the mighty Inner Critic inside each of us, the one who happily regurgitates all the slights and derisive comments of the past, we may, as we wander this world. encounter another species of Homo Sapien, and that is of the Genus Naysayer.

Those who have observed the Naysayer note how shrilly it calls. It sings a discordant song as it passes overhead, and dumps crap on our dreams. It then flies away, its job done for another day.

The Naysayer presents itself as an expert in all things. Sometimes it even is an expert in something and uses that expertness to swing its spear wide and pierce all the hopes nearby just in case anyone else wishes to attempt to rise to its exalted position.

The Naysayer is not always direct. It may use honeyed words to entice us in before giving us a large slap on the forehead. It may disguise its tsunami of criticism as helpful. It may present its uneducated opinion as absolute fact.

The Naysayer is very astute in one way. It seems to know just where you feel the most sensitive or unsure. Once it ascertains this, it will very carefully aim for your jugular, citing its overpowering care for you while laying your soul bare.

As you lie there, bereft of hope for your fledgling artistic self, it walks away, secure in the idea that it has done you an immense favour by explaining the ways and means in which you are a disappointing failure.

Together, the Naysayer and our Inner Critic slay our hopes and dreams with ease. They limit us, make us freeze in our tracks, make us give up, stop us from moving forward.

The only way to beat them is to keep to a routine and do the work in spite of what they say. Day by day, week by week. Become Genus Perseverance. 


Be kind to yourself

In your creative journey, as you practice your artform, as you experience the act of making something from your imagination and with the skills you currently have... the end result may not be exactly what you envisioned. 

The harshest critic will often be that voice inside us. That voice is an amalgam of all the criticism we remember and all the awkwardness, embarrassment or shame we have experienced when receiving it.

That voice is a feedback loop that the crocodile brain will play all the time. Whether we 'fail' and even when we succeed beyond our wildest dreams, that loop will tell us those negative messages over and over again.

In fact, sometimes we're more successful at putting our own attempts down than we are at making them happen.

As much as we may wish that voice would shut the heck up and leave us alone... I think it has a purpose. Our goal should not be to erase the voice. Our goal should be to ignore it and continue, with determination and purpose, on the path of artistic expression and creative manifestation.

Our own negativity towards ourselves then becomes the whetstone. If we persevere in spite of it, over time we will get stronger. Our skill level will increase, our knowledge will expand, our experiences will become a foundation for the next creative act.

We overcome the negativity of the voice by the act of doing the art consistently.

When we are in artistic mode, practicing or creating, we do need to try to remove the critic and just allow ourselves to be where we are on the path, and enjoy the process.

When we are done, when looking at what we've done or thinking about what we've accomplished, we need to remove judgement. Our goal should be to simply observe.

And the first observation should be, always, what we did well. I'm not saying we should be dishonest, I'm saying we should look long and hard if we have to in order to find at least one thing positive to say about what we've done. 

List the positive things first. Then acknowledge a couple of things that need to be tweaked. Write them down for next time.

Don't beat yourself up for being 'less than' what you want. Understand that art (no matter what medium) is a process. Understand that it's not about perfection, it's about experience. Understand that, if you continue to practice in effective ways, you will improve.

Be kind to yourself on that journey.


Creatively Speaking...

One day I decided to put together a book. It would have black and white drawings that could be colored. Apparently many adults enjoy coloring, finding it a serene and peaceful thing to do. I came up with the idea of making it also a journal, so I added lined pages for thoughts, reflections, poems. Then I felt inspired to add my own memories and reflections. I would sit, listening to tranquil music on Youtube, and write. Together these things became...

"Creatively Speaking: A beautiful inspirational writer's journal & coloring book" by yours truly.

US Link - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09SBRGH59

CA link - https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B09SBRGH59

"I hope you enjoy this specially designed multi-purpose and heart-felt publication. It's meant to be part journal, part coloring book, and part inspiration. There are words and graphics, phrases and ideas. Whether you brainstorm, write poetry, or lyrics, whether you sit quietly in nature or at the kitchen table, I hope you find serenity and peace within these pages."


How do you love yourself?

'Love yourself first' says the old adage. The meaning of that statement was outside my reach for many years. 

How do you love yourself when the world tells you that you are unworthy?

There is a certain mindset, a certain attitude, a negativity, that I felt from others. I was taught I would never be good enough. If one person tells you that, perhaps it haunts you or even limits you. What happens when it feels like everyone is saying you don't have value?

Perhaps, like me, your light is dimmed. Your voice grows silent. Your playfulness and creativity are muffled. You learn to walk the dictated path. You learn to listen to hints of what is expected and strive to please others so they will be pleased with you.

You spend years denying your unhappy state, your creative aspirations on the back burner or hidden away. Sometimes those who do care for you will nudge you to do more, believe in yourself. But their voices (and your own) are muted by the cacophony of statements and feelings integrated from the less enthusiastic.

Why is it that we will leap to discourage others? Why is it that the 'good news' is an afterthought? Why are human beings so negative? Why do we 'enjoy' watching others be thrown to the lions?

The weight of all that darkness can take me down to the abyss. 

As sad as that sounds, I believe that weight can be lifted, that the light can shine, that your own voice can grow and be heard above the crowd.

It starts from the inside out. Examining your own thoughts and habits. Asking what works. Asking why you think that way or believe this. Asking what you want to change, then doing the work to change it.

It's understanding that you are not, today, all you can ever be. It's believing that you can grow. 

It's realizing that creativity is a process. A journey. We start where we are (as much as we might like to be somewhere else). We make mistakes, we write badly or sing badly or paint badly, we persist in 'doing' the art. Each thing we do is grist for the mill, an experience. As those things happen, come into existence, slowly and deliberately we start to see the potential and celebrate the small successes.

Perhaps you start to realize that you are who you are for a reason, and that your life experience is now there to draw on for inspiration. Perhaps your own voice is the one you listen to first.

Perhaps you have the compassion to forgive yourself for anything and everything you did and didn't do to get to this point.

You can't change the past. Tomorrow is yet to come. What will you do today?


Quietly aware

In my life I have often felt an outsider. I wanted to keep apart, yet strangely I also wished I didn't feel so unconnected to others. I didn't know how to reach out. 

Small talk was something I didn't understand. I saw others having casual chats at coffee break or at social events, and had no idea how they did it. Anytime I tried, I just felt tongue-tied and super-awkward.

People would often remark on how quiet I was. I listened more than I spoke. Noise pressed on me and silenced me.

Being quiet doesn't mean I wasn't aware of my surroundings. I would see how the light softly traced the outline of the leaves on a tree. I would hear the tiny birds chirping in the hedge as they flitted from branch to branch. I might be the only one who noticed a snowdrop living in the shadow of a fence post.

#4 Creative Hack

It's 11:30pm on a Saturday night and I'm writing my blog. 

I've noticed this is my routine now. I fit writing in and around other things. And for once, insomnia is a blessing.

I tend to wake up somewhere between 3:30 am and 4:30 am. Usually, I can't get back to sleep. After feeling frustrated with this, I finally decided, if my brain wants to be awake, let's get it doing something. 

So, I started going to Youtube to watch videos on film scoring, composing, Blender, Photoshop, psychology. Or I'd go into one of the online courses I've taken and review a module.

More recently, I've gotten up, gone to the desktop, and worked. 

I'm amazed at how productive I am so early in the morning. By the time my normal wake-up time of 7:30 am rolls around, I've written or composed or designed something I'm pretty satisfied with. 

Of course, I have the freedom to have a little siesta a bit later in the day.

As a creative person I've always rebelled against rules and routines.

But getting up before the sun is definitely a creative hack I can wholeheartedly embrace.


#3 Creative Hack
#2 Creative Hack
#1 Creative Hack