Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How to Get Your Creative Mojo Back

Oh, it gets tough, sometimes. Tough to be creative.

Maybe it's because I spent so long not being creative. Maybe it's because my life got so caught up with moving and being a mom and changing my life around.

Sometimes I lose my creativity through fear and indecision.

Sometimes I stop being creativity because of good things. Wonderful celebrations, holidays, visiting friends and family, projects.

Sometimes I just get stuck in the routine of everyday living. If I let it, the grind of the To Do, geared to doing what I have to do to keep everybody going and the bills paid and the piles of laundry at bay, can take over the deeper but often less pressing need to be creative.

When I'm not feeling creative, it's worth my ocean of tears to get me to do all that work to get the gears grinding again. But the thing is, I really want to do it. I want to be creative. I have a deep seated and well established desire to be creative. I just have to get the creative muscles exercised enough to be able to live up to the desire... and overcome the resistance.

I have some tricks though. This is what happens when you have gone through the resistance and come out the other side enough times, you develop a strategies. I'm sure every creative type has them, because it is the nature of creativity to have struggles.

One of my favorite tricks is to give myself assignments.

That is what I did with my self challenge; saying I would write a page a day in my novel or give up chocolate. When you challenge yourself, though, make sure that you have realistic goals, that they are set within a time frame, that you can know when you have reached them-- and so my goal was only for a month's time, and I'm not giving up chocolate forever, but only one day of chocolate for every day of writing missed, because otherwise, I would feel like I had failed after that first hard day. Don't do that. Allow yourself the perfection of your process, and some backsliding, too. And make sure you can see your own progress towards your goal. Keep a log of your word count, or the time you spent practicing your moves. Take photographs of the development of your painting. If you can, make yourself accountable to someone else, an online buddy, your partner, a girlfriend. Live up to your self assignment, but don't be brutal to yourself.

Another thing that is a great exercise to get through my rough patches is to give myself a theme to explore. I have done this with broken heart poems, (can you guess what caused my hiatus from creating with that one?) or with paintings, drawings and collages based around the outline of my hand. That's right, the same activity that kindergardeners get, but one done with the artistic sensibilities of an adult. I have also tried drawing pictures based on my children's day, whatever they have done or said or experienced that day. Another theme was to sketch whatever I saw when I sat down with my journal.

If I am trying to get into a novel or a story that has been neglected, one fun activity is to do character interviews. You ask the characters questions, and then let them answer. This always surprises me. My characters always reveal things I did not know about them. How does it work? I don't know. I only know that the mind is a wild and fertile jungle.

One good way to kick start your creativity is to join a class... or even better, teach one. I know that isn't always realistic, but teaching teenagers about poetry or essays or drawing or what have you has always gotten some great [whatever I was teaching] out of me. Barring teaching, join a class or a group where everyone is doing and talking about and thinking about creating. Community is a great help for great endeavors. And being creative when you are starting out stuck is a great endeavor.

Morning pages, (the assignment from The Artist's Way where you write three pages as soon as you wake up in the morning,) can also serve to get those creative juices going. The more you are thinking about what you want to create, the more it starts to come alive. It doesn't have to be morning pages, either. Any journal writing can really serve this purpose. I have one caveat though: Do try not to spend all your time writing about how you can't write. I have spent SOOO many years filling journal upon journal with all the whys and wherefores of my creative blocks, thus expending all my energy on NOT WRITING, and very little on actually writing. Remember the law of attraction... spend all your focus on how you can't write, and it will be a self fulfilling prophecy. Spend all of your focus on what you are about to write next, and the words will come, oh yes they will.

Pick an inspiring book and go to it. Let the words of one of your favorite authors or non fiction writers or poets inspire your creativity. Or peruse the art of your hero-artist. Or spend some time with whatever artwork really fires you up. Sometimes watching Amadeus does it for me. Or sometimes I will read Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott. I love that book. Or playing some Joni Mitchell gets me in a watery, creative frame of mind. Pay attention to the things that get your inspiration going and then use those to trigger your creativity.

What are your triggers? What are your tricks for getting the creativity flowing again?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

An Eye on The Excuses

I don’t know what to do about this. The goal I set for myself is to write every day for thirty days. I am about a week an a half in and I missed two days.

I didn’t miss it because I was shirking, I missed it because I was working. (haha I made a rhyme)

Could I have gotten home from working on my feet all day, then feeding and putting the kids to bed, and gotten straight to my book? I could have, but yesterday I fell asleep crossways on the bed. Konked out. And then by the time I woke up I was all fuzzy headed and dehydrated and still tired. The day before yesterday we had plans to go to my mom’s, so I didn’t get the kids to bed until 10, by which time I was totally exhausted.

I could have pushed it. Didn’t. I could have gotten home and gone off into my corner in the enclosed porch to write for fifteen minutes. Didn’t. One night I watched a movie with Sean and Uncle, the next night we all sat and chatted.

Perhaps I don’t have the will power, but perhaps it’s better not to be too rigid about it. I don’t need to punish myself by writing when I am in extreme circumstances. I do, however, need to keep an eye on my excuses. Being tired happens to be one of my most beloved excuses to get out of doing things that scare me or are hard. Or things I just don’t want to make the effort to do.

Sometimes, I have trouble treating myself well. I am harder on myself than I ever would be on a friend or a student. Sometimes I get lost in my personal fears of inadequacy and I get down on myself or punish myself. Or I give up. It is in those times when I have to remember how I would treat the situation if it wasn’t about me.

If I were my friend, I would be supportive and write off the two days and just encourage my friend to do better on the rest of the goal.

If I were a teacher and my students did something like that, they would lose points for not reaching the assignment goals. They might cry that they were ahead of their goals for the other days… like I am. They might tell me sob stories about how they didn’t feel good and needed to sleep… like I did. None of that, though, changes the fact that they missed a couple of days. Now, the extra work on the other days might make up for the missed assignment in the long run… good job student… but in the short run, I think missing the assignment does matter.

So you know what? I am going to take the consequences. I said write everyday for a month or give up chocolate for a month. Instead of being draconian about it, and making it a whole month of lost chocolate for a normal lack of perfection, I think I lose only two days of chocolate. Starting when the goal is over, that’s when I will have to pay the consequences… just so I don’t happen to try to “give up” chocolate on a random day when I neither want nor eat chocolate anyway.

At the end, I’ll tell you how many days I am banned from chocolate.

Right now, the total is 2.

But my goal of writing everyday is still on track and I am still proud of myself for doing as much as I have been doing.

Good job, student. Good job, friend. Good job, me.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

One More Could Have Been Wish

Oh gosh! I wish I could have been a folksinger. Like Ani. I wish I could write songs and sing them and play acoustic guitar, and open my own independent label. I would travel the country and play intimate gigs. And when I had my kids, I would make a kids music album.

Alternate Lives, Actual Passions.

I'm committed to living this life I have and to making the happiest, but that doesn't mean I don't like to think of couldbes. Natasha over at Creative Nachos got me thinking about all the things I have wanted to be in life, all the career paths I could have chosen. And maybe, exploring those paths not taken can help us pinpont the things that do make us the happiest. And maybe if we look at our deepest childhood dreams, we can take some of that and live it in this life right now. Why the heck not?

-At five I wanted to be a ballerina.

-Oscar Award winning Screen Play Writer. I still want to do this by the time I am 50.

-Wild Life Photo Journalist for National Geographic. Animals, travel, photography. Neato. Can I have my own show, too? And write books to display everything I've learned and seen on my journeys?

-Bass player for a rock band. I can't play bass, but I like the cool of the Bass player. I would also be singer, but I would get tired of always being the front man. Maybe someone would publish the fiction book I wrote about the hidden life of a rock star.

-Bookstore/Coffeshop owner with poetry readings and acoustic music regularly. And you know I would want my poetry, at least, to be published.

-Interior designer with book deals and/or a show on HGTV.

-Psychologist. With book deals and teaching gigs.

-An editor of some fabulous glossy magazine, fashion or design or home and garden or something like that.

-Or, alternate to that alternate, how about a publisher of independent poetry, zines, chapbooks, artbooks.

-Oh, I'd love to work for Martha Stewart coming up with fabulous craft ideas.

-Wedding planner for fabulous yet not extravagant, heartfelt celebrations. With a book deal.

-Fashion Designer. Gosh, I wanted to do that for so many years.

-A professor of women's literature, philosophy, and/or religion. With many books to my curriculum vitae.

-A farmer. I think a small farm with fruit trees and honey bees and something like that. With a book deal or two.

-A jewelry designer. I still think about taking a silversmithing course and making my own necklaces and rings and bracelets and earrings. Oh, and selling them to all the fabulous people and making scads of money. I'll take a book deal and teaching gigs for this, too.

-Architect making small cottages that are green and anti that whole McMansion thing. And a book deal. Small is Beautiful.

-Writer Illustrator of children's books. With lots of published books and some awards. Speaking and teaching gigs to boot.

-Owner of a bed and breakfast... no, not a bed and breakfast quite... an artists' retreat, which would be a bed and breakfast and workshop and studio all wrapped up in one. Yeah, that's it.
And a book deal... need I say it?

-Comic book artist. I made my first superhero when I was ten. Her name was Ultra Girl, and her sidekick was a black teenager. And the guy back at headquarters with the computers was a muscle bound man. I think I'd like to teach along with this one, throw in the book deal, too. Oh wait. They need to make movies out of my comicbooks, so throw in a Hollywood movie deal and link this one back to the best original screenplay.

(I just realize how many of my alternate lives are "fabulous." I guess I've watched too many Sex and the City episodes.)

-Ooh. A chef with a small restaurant and/or catering company, "fabulously" popular cookbooks, and my own show on Food Network. And I want a huge, gorgeous house in the Hamptons to go with it... oh wait, apparently I want to be Ina Gartner... but with kids.

-Costume designer for period movies. I'd like to teach this one, with an additional book deal to share all my fabulous historical and artistic knowledge.

-A maker of miniatures or bigatures working with a company like Weta Works. I think it would have been so cool to help make a huge venture like Lord of the Rings. I don't know if this one gets a book deal. Maybe just teaching.

-A filmmaker. Behind the camera, yeah, that's the ticket. No book deal necessary. Lots of Hollywood contracts, though. And some Oscars, please.

-A window display stylist... or doing the styling for Pottery Barn or Urban Outfitters or some place like that. With a book deal and/or a show on some national channel.

-And then, since what I'm doing is SAHM/waittress/blogger for the love of it/closet writer, there's my alternate reality of published author of novels, poetry and non-fiction, in-demand guest teacher, guest writer, guest speaker, and beloved, critically acclaimed... well everything.
Basically I just want to have book deals and teach. Can you tell?

Looking over my list, I can see that what I really want to do is write and teach what I love. I didn't put an actual teacher on the list because I have already done that, and I want it to be a little bit closer to my passions and farther from the BS that is the public school system.

And a lot of my dreams for a career are still possible. But even the ones that aren't, due to age or training, well they say something about my passions. Hmm. I wonder how many of these dreams I can manage to squeeze into the rest of my life.

What are your alternate reality dream careers? What do you think they say about your passions?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Slow Night at the Sunset Grill

It ain’t pretty, but there is a certain poetry to working at the Sunset Grill. The tin roofed, cement floored patio. The antique wood patio tables. The rolls of paper towels set out instead of napkins. The palm trees waving in the flowery breeze. The traffic whizzing by on 30th Avenue.

A customer told me why he likes the place. “This is old Florida,” he said, and I think I understand. It’s about hot days and casual food, people who stay when others end their holidays, shorts and tank tops and flip flops, old-timers, alligators, huge live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, vegetation growing mad, and the wild, weather beaten corners of life. It is not strip malls and corporate chains.

I never thought I’d be living here in Florida, but life has a way of twisting and turning and here I am. It kind of feels like a hiatus from the real world, a semi-working half-vacation… but then again, it doesn’t.

Maybe the step back from my old life in New York City allows me to really take stock. Maybe waiting tables in this place that really, is just a simple place with a long history, is allowing me to move towards what I really want to do with my life. It’s a place and a time to redefine who I am, and remember who I was before the world took over and had its say about where I was headed.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Fighting the Good Fight, or Warriorgirl vs Writer's Block

I am running head long into the resistance.

Yes. Someone (I don't know who) has set up a guerilla movement in my head that is keeping me from my computer, from my writing, from my novel, from my most important goals. These are the warriors, they are fierce:

I am exhausted.

I am searching the web for various veryimportant answers.

I just have to answer this email.

I have no idea what to write anyway so I might as well not try.

I hear the kids stirring upstairs.

I am not centered so I have to center myself before I start anything because I am just so full of scattered, nervous energy.

I don't feel well.

I have to change my shirt one more time because this one just isn't comfortable.

I have very little time left before I have to go to work, so I probably won't be able to.

I have to make dinner while the kids nap, even though S is the one who will be home with the kids and he's in charge of dinner tonight.

I have to write in my journal.

I have to sort all my questions out in my head.

I have to write on my blog.

Yes, I am smack dab in the middle of resistance fighters and I am losing the battle. We all fight these battles when facing important things. We all face these battles when confronted with the blank page. Sometimes, I wonder if the blank page is really a representation of all our hopes and dreams and fears and desires for our selves. To face what we really want/fear in our lives is so scary, so jarring to the nice status quo of living, that our psyche sets up traps to to make us fail.

The best way to deal with those traps? Talk back to them. "I hear you. I see you. I get what you're saying, now go away because you're not helping, and I have stuff to do."

The guerilla warriors getting in my way are me, without a doubt. I am my own worst enemy, trite but true. If I wanted to let my enemy side win, I would say something along the lines of "I suck!" and then give in to the stress and fear and exhaustion...

But it's not that hard to win this battle. I simply have to say, "I hear you, but you're not helping. I have to go write now," and then live up to my word.

Yikes. Here I go. Off to write. Wish me luck.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Letting Go

I'm just stopping in here for a moment to say I am focusing on breathing in and breathing out... just living.

I am being mindful of what is around me, what I need to do, and I am letting go of all the stories and anxieties I have in my mind. I'm not worried about the lack of time. I'm not worried about whether I will make enough money tonight. I am not worried about whether or not I will ever get a book published. I'm not worried about what's for dinner tonight.

I'm letting all that go. I am going to go sit down with my novel and work on it. I am going to get dressed for work, and I am going to do that to the best of my ability while I am there. I am even going to enjoy it while I'm there. In fact, I am just going to be in the moment of all that I do today. Well, I'm gonna try.

Thanks Zen Momma for the reminder to forget all the baggage and just enjoy the journey.Link

Friday, May 16, 2008

How To Not NOT Write

I’ve had a goal to write every day for much longer than I care to admit, without actually writing every day… in fact, it would be interesting to see how many of the days that I have professed that goal have been spent actively NOT writing.

Can you actively NOT write? Is it passively NOT writing? Maybe I am passive-aggressively NOT writing.

That idea makes me a little uncomfortable, because it’s probably true. I am passive aggressively avoiding the thing I have wanted my whole life. Who am I punishing? Myself. No one else. Well, maybe my family, too, since they get the brunt of my diminished good cheer, since NOT writing makes me NOT happy. And a NOT happy mom is a grumpy, snappish, moody mom.

So how to turn that determined NOT into just plain old writing?

Here are the thoughts scooting through my mind:

1. Ass, meet chair. Sit your butt down in front of the computer, preferably one not linked to the internet to avoid distraction. Do not get up until you have met my goals for the day.

2. Schedule a specific time in the day to get the writing done. Do not say that you will write “later” and think that you will actually sit down to do it, because “later” is never now.

3. Make sure that your scheduled writing time is rational. Are you saying that you scheduled time to write is while the kids are playing with cars on the kitchen floor? It ain’t gonna happen… at least not regularly and without interruption. You might be able to squeeze in a couple minutes here and there, but nothing sustained, nothing regular. Or for that matter, are you scheduling your writing at the end of the day, when you are so exhausted you can’t even form a coherent sentence? Or in the morning before coffee, heaven forfend? Know yourself and your life and be realistic with your goals.

4. Make sure your scheduled time is dedicated to the writing, not to making dinner, or spending time with family, or watching tv. Give yourself the gift of focusing on what you are doing. Realize that the commitment often means you have to let go of something else. Do you really need to check Facebook one more time to see how your Scrabble games are going?

5. Enlist others in your plans to write. If you have other people in your life who are cheering you on, it helps. If you are being held accountable to other people, you don’t want to let them down. If there are other people who need things from you, you need to have them on board, so you can get what you need, too. If you have a community that supports you, you can get farther than if you are going it alone. You don’t have to hide your activities. Be proud.

6. Set up a challenge for yourself. Either join a group where you need to produce something, or commit yourself to a personal challenge. Having to hand in a story every other week for a class or workshop means you’ve got a deadline. Doing something like nanowrimo.org means you are competing to meet deadlines and word counts. Maybe you can even set up your own goal…if you’re the type to live up to a challenge without other people egging you on. Give yourself consequences and a deadline; like…write one page a day for a month, or give up chocolate for a month.

7. Make sure your GOALS are rational. Don’t expect to go from zero to 10 pages a day just like that. It takes time to get those muscles working. Be kind to yourself, but don’t be a wimp. Allow yourself to take baby steps to get to your larger goals, allow yourself to fall backwards… but don’t allow yourself to stop moving forward. And don’t give up.

8. Write without stopping for small chunks of time. Set an alarm for fifteen minutes, and just don’t stop. Don’t stop to look up the spelling of something. Don’t stop to find the perfect word (leave it blank or use an imperfect word.) Don’t stop to get a drink of water. Don’t stop to wonder if this story makes sense or if you should write it at all or if you should ever pick up the pen again because you might be a total idiot. JUST DON’T STOP. You can go back over it when those fifteen minutes are over, but for those fifteen minutes, just write.

9. Develop new habits that get you in the writing state of mind. Putting on a special hat or taking out your good pens and note book. Making a certain tea. Setting up your desk space. Going for a walk to soothe your mind. Anything can become a personal ritual for getting your head in the writing space. And if it becomes habit enough, you will be like Pavlov’s dog: Whenever you smell that Jasmine Incense/taste that tea/put on the cardigan, your brain will start to get in gear for your writing habit.

10. And the sit your butt down in front of your work and do it. Yes, this was number one. It is number ten, too. This is the bottom (haha)line. You can talk about writing all you want, you can make plans and lists (yes, like this one.) You can do outlines and join groups, but the single most important thing to breaking through the NOT writing so you can start writing is to do it. Commit. Sit. Write.

Hello chair. Here comes my butt.

I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I Caught a Fish and It Was THIIIIIIIS Big! (or Write Down That Inspiration While It's Hot!)

I had the BEST, the BESTEST idea for a blog post yesterday. Oh it was so good! It was the humdinger to end all humdingers.

This genius thought lit up my head like in the cartoons, with the bulb flashing, and I said, "Oh my gradness goocious, that is such a marvelous concept, such a great line, that there is no way in a million years that I will forget it. Let me just go and feed the kids/get the groceries/make that phone call and I will get right back to that idea and write it up."

Flash forward to a couple of days later. I have no idea what that brilliant idea was. Not the slightest clue. I never got back to my computer that day, and by the time I did, the only thing I could remember about said idea was where I was standing when it popped into my head. (In the kitchen between the table and the window, if you were wondering.)

Today's lesson: When those flashes of inspiration hit you, for goodness sake, write them down! You don't have to stop what you are doing that minute to create a masterpiece, but do take the time to grab a piece of paper and jot down the little gem. Whatever it will take to jog your memory when you have time later, a word, a line, a little sketch, a list of questions, that perfect title. JUST. WRITE. IT. DOWN.

Better yet, set up a system for yourself that allows you to easily note those explosions of thought. Carry a tiny notebook in your pocket. Get one of those gadgets that can record your voice at the touch of a button. Maybe there's a spot on your PDA. Maybe a series of white boards all through out your house where you can write it out with a dry erase marker. Really, it can be any way, whatever works for you. The only important qualities are that your system has to be always available, you have to be able to find the ideas again, and you have to actually use it.

When I was a waitress, I used to write my ideas down on check dupes and cocktail napkins and then stuff them in my apron. That worked pretty well, as long as I stapled them together at the end of the night. When I was a teacher, I always had a journal wherever I went that was my note keeper. Now that I am a mom and spending more time running around after squealing (with glee, with tantrums, with monsterness) children, I'll have to find a new system that can even come with me to bath time, or walks around the block.

What do you do to capture those ideas that flash through your mind and are all too swiftly lost?

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Beauty in Everyday Life

Part of the reason I am on this inquiry into living the creative life is that I just want to be happier.

I am tired of the sarcasm, pessimism, materialism and nihilism that our culture is chock full of. And I am tired of those urges within myself. I don't want to focus on what's wrong with the world, or on what's wrong with myself. I don't want to make lists of all the things I don't have and need to go out and buy. I don't want to put other people down or stare at celebrities for their flaws. I don't want to be snarky, and I don't want to dissect every beautiful thing for the worm.

Actually, I want to find the beauty in that worm. I want to enjoy my ordinary life. I want to be thankful for what I have. I want to be here, right now, and appreciate the very livingness.

I know it's not cool to be happy, but it sure feels better.

I'd rather be happy than cool.

In light of that, I'd like to share a couple of posts that helped me remember how to find the beauty in my everyday life and why I want to. Electric Boogaloo and Soulemama are both so inspiring and are living the creative life with their kids on a daily basis. Thanks ladies for reminding me of one of my own creative living moments with my kids yesterday, on Mother's day.

G, Ivy and I were in the garden, watching polywogs in the pond, when G took my hand and started to dance. Ivy watched from down the path until I had G take one of her hands, and I took her other, and then the three of us danced in the middle of the garden next to the pond, tinkling away it's own music, and I sang the dancing song, and we only stopped because Papa called us inside to eat the delicious brunch he made.

So there was my creative moment, the happiness of being a mom and being open to whatever comes. There was being present to the positive, and not staying stuck in the hardship of life.

There was living.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Last Minute, Free or Cheap, Creative Mother's Day Gifts

This year has been so in flux, that I haven't much thought about mother's day. Not for myself as a mom, and not for my mother, either.

But here I am on Mother's Day, with an unexpected day off from my brand new job, and I am wondering again, what are the ways I can celebrate my mother... or for that matter, what are the things I would like to have for myself that aren't about buying something or planning for it way back in January?

  • Pick a bouquet of wildflowers. (Please stay out of the neighbors' gardens.)
  • Take mom for a sunset picnic, weather permitting, or if a full meal is not in the cards, how about sunset tea and cake al fresco. Or if it's cold and wet, spread a blanket on the living room floor and make it an indoor picnic.
  • A List Poem about mom. There is no need to have flowery language or perfect grammar here. Just write up a list of the little things that make up who your mom is to you. Tell the concrete details that you come back to you when you close your eyes. The smells, the things she always wore or kept near her, the things she did that made you feel special, the sound of her laughter, her habitual sayings. Start listing. When it feels right, stop. Write it on a nice peace of paper, maybe with a pretty sticker or sketch to go with it, and there you are.
  • If the mom is the mom of young babies who can't quite make something, how about a simple hand print or foot print.
  • A cake, home made. I think we under appreciate the value of pastry made from scratch. It's not how fancy it's decorated, it's the effort and intention that goes in to making a treat.
  • How about cleaning the house top to bottom. I can't even imagine how excited that would make me.
  • Time off. An afternoon, a day, a week... whatever fits into your life. Give mom a break from the duties of being a mom. From being the primary care giver, house cleaner, cook, chauffer, grocery shopper, etc. Give her the time to focus on her own self.
  • If you want to, create the classic coupon gift book of services. Anything from the above housekeeping kind of services to kisses and hugs and back rubs. It depends on what the Mom in question likes, and can be totally personalized to her.
  • Or how about time. Give your mom time. Do you live far away? Schedule phonecalls on a regular basis. Do you live near? How about a weekly date with your mom for an activity of her choice.
  • Don't forget the good old home made card. If you earnestly put your heart into it, make it something she would love, write about your true feelings and gratitude, decorate it with images that are meaningful, this could become a keepsake, not just another Hallmark to get stuffed into the box in the back closet.
  • A collage of images. It could be one totally dedicated to her life, or your memories of her as your mom, or even of yourself, if she is distant and you want to share your life with her. Don't use valuable or irreplaceable original photos, you wouldn't want to ruin them. But you can easily color photocopy a whole page full and use those in your collage. Use paints and images and rubber stamps to fill the page. Write about the images, or tell stories.
  • Take out your camera, digital and/or film, and do a photoshoot of the family. Have everyone dress up and find a picturesque spot, and just take pictures of everything, both posed shots and live candids.
  • How silly is your mom? Would she enjoy it if you made her a princess crown out of tin foil and cardboard and a wand from a stick and Christmas tinsel? You could paint a sash with the words "World's Best Mom" or "Momzilla Princess" or "Our Sweetheart" depending on the personality of all involved. Drape her favorite chair with a pretty scarf and make it her throne from which to direct the evening-- her choice. A good tearjerker DVD. A family game of Monopoly. A Disco Dance Party. Or maybe kids and dad go out and leave the house to Mom, peacefully, quietly.

There are so many things you could do for your mother. All you have to do is think about who she is and what she likes. It really is the thought that counts, even if you don't have the money for a diamond tennis bracelet or the time for building her that backyard art studio.

Show her that you love her and want her to be happy, and that you are paying attention to who she is. I think that would make any mother happy.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

How To Find Your Passion

This is a wide world. There are many thousands of possibilities to take advantage of, and many more paths to take. The question is, which one to take? What do I choose? What do I really want to devote my attention, time and energy to?

Recently, I've been turning to the past for my own answers to this.

What are the things I loved as a child? What are the ideas that keep coming back, no matter how many years since I first thought of them? What are the brainstorms I had way back when that stayed with me?

For instance, the idea of the monsters. Painting my little monsters that were inspired by my kids and selling or showing them in some way. Maybe even (some day, not now,) creating a children's book with them. That's an idea that burbled away in my brain for a while, exploded onto the scene in a burst of inspiration, and then swam away again, due to the demands of living life.


Or there's the image of a house, seen from the inside out. I first started drawing cross sections of houses when I was in first or second grade. Inside was furniture, and the inhabitants, going on about their lives. This idea morphed into the desire to be an architect, until I learned how much math it would take. The idea went away for a while until I was much older, then it showed up in my paintings again, in the form of buildings with scaffoldings, or buildings being built out of steel girders, both above and below ground. They were buildings both inside and out. From then on, I have been fascinated by the evocative image of the way the city is built, the houses and apartments fitting together in grids, and the lives burning away inside of those grids. The histories and stories collaged together to create something so very complicated.

Then again, certain ideas have come back again and again. My first attempt at novel writing was in the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre, and that has come back after years of not writing or of trying to write serious literary fiction. My space ships and colony planets are back, along with the relationship of sisters, the power and mystery of the wilderness, and rebellion against oppression.

These ideas, images and questions have come into and gone back out of my life so many times. But they have never gone away.

It is those things that don't go away that have the staying power to feed your passion. It is the dreams that keep poking at you that are the ones from the bottom of your psyche.

How to capture them?

Never throw anything away. Have envelopes to toss them into, or an old trunk or whatever, even if you think you will never look at them again because they are complete trash, DON'T throw them out. Some day, a few weeks from now or a few years, you might go through that pile of discards and discover it wasn't your passion that was lacking, it was your fear and insecurity that was taking over. If you look at that old idea, and the spark comes back and it starts living in you again... hold onto it. (Let us ignore for now the urge to organize and purge and get rid of clutter. For the ideas, don't let them go.)

Another way to track these old passions is to keep a journal and every once in a while go through the old entries and take note of those things that keep coming back, those wishes and hopes and ideas and projects.

If you don't have a backlog of papers and books documenting your old ideas, then time to delve into your biggest storage closet... your memory. Think back to your favorite activities as a child and take them up again. Write about something you loved to do when you were a teenager or young adult and talk about what it was that got you, your feelings and thoughts while you were engaged in the activity. Or talk with a good friend about the dreams you always had, whether those were sleeping dreams or waking ones. Share your dreams and pay attention to those things that keep coming up.

Here's something that you shouldn't worry about: why those dreams went away. Sometimes we aren't ready to go after them. Sometimes they need more time in your subconscious, or you need more time in the world before the seed of the idea can bloom into life.

The important thing is to find those passions that won't go away, no matter how busy you are or what you have to do to pay the rent or where your actual life has taken you. If they keep coming back, if they won't go away, those are your passions-- those are the contents of your soul. Pay attention to them.

How exciting.

What are the ideas and dreams from your past that keep coming back? Can you imagine taking them up again?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Monsters Inside

I spent some time yesterday painting an unfinished drawing of a few monsters frolicking in the forest. I was just flipping through my journal when I found the drawing and decided to take out my paint set.

The boy was enraptured. So was the girl. They wanted to see the monsters, they wanted to roar and to touch and to see. Something about the monsters on the page lit up a light with in them.

They wanted to help draw, they wanted to paint, too. I took out their paints (instead of mama's nice paints) and let them play around with color and brushes. Ivy spoke a new word. "Paint! Paint!" I also showed them the other drawings I had in the journal, the monsters who I had ignored for the last 6,7,8 months.

It turns out the wild roaring of those monsters will not be silenced by the time or the closed journal. They want to be let out of the cage of mama's busy little head. They want to come back. They want to have more monster buddies to play with.

I wonder if those little monsters I drew for the kids actually have more of a connection to the little monster inside me. Who are they? Nightmares? Defenders? An expression of our own inner power? Maybe they are just about fun and the wild rumpus. It's fun to yell and stomp and dance about, despite what you are "supposed to do."

And then maybe watching the reaction of my kids to my old drawing is an affirmation of something that I knew already but had doubted, and tossed away. There it is: another discovery in how mothering affects our art in surprising ways. I am a monster myself, who has sneaky little desires that will not lay down quietly and go to sleep, and I see myself in my children. And I see myself anew through their eyes.

I have decided that it's time to dust off the old goal of going public with my art, to try and make some money off the work that I have been doing almost my whole life. I think it's the monsters who want to be seen, and to be shared with children of all ages who love the idea of the monster inside.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Secret Weapon: The Bathroom

How does a mom find the time to be creative? Any way she can. Even if she has to sit on the can. Hardee har har.

It's a new tactic I've found. A way to increase my creativity. When I go up to the bathroom, I don't bring the cross word with me, anymore. No magazines. No light reading. Nope, I take my journal and some pens.

That is where I can write an instant poem. Or I can brainstorm a scene in my novel. Or I can sketch a drawing I've been thinking about but never had the opportunity to get started on. I can make lists of what I want to accomplish that day. I can also take the time to write down all the thoughts and feelings whirling around in my head and haven't been able to get out.

Maybe this is just a little corner of that "room of one's own" Virginia Woolf talked about. Maybe this is just a little hint of trying to get back that focus that I used to have before I was a mom. I can stay for longer than the time it takes me to pee, and no body starts yelling at me that the kids need to be changed or they want to go for a walk. It's not a babysitter for the afternoon or a naptime break, but maybe that little bathroom trip can be a pocket break, just enough to keep the creative juices flowing for when you do have an extended period of work time.

Even if I don't manage to actually write that novel up there (I don't know, do you think the extension cord for my computer could reach into the bathroom?) the few moments spent thinking about what is coming next allow me to stay in the mental game of creativity. Even if taking my paints up there would be too awkward, the planning can be done for the real painting can be done, and maybe I'll get so inspired to start, not even a cranky kid can get in my way.

And sometimes, we just need to take those fifteen minutes and focus on what is going on inside of our own heads, instead of what is going on with the kids or the household. Catch those ricocheting thoughts and inspirations before they dissipating into everything we have to do.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Inspiration to Create

I've been doing this a long time. By "this" I mean being an artist, a writer, a creative. There is nothing like being engaged in the fire of inspiration. Feeling that heat bubble up inside you and burst out onto the page or the stage or the canvas or whatever is your chosen medium. There is nothing like being caught up in the divine flow of creating. It's a natural high. Ecstasy.

There are some people who chase that inspiration their whole lives.

But I'll tell you something else a lot of people don't understand about creating. It isn't actually ABOUT inspiration. Sure inspiration is a part of it, but the biggest part of being creative, I've found is actually the commitment to being creative.

When you commit to being creative, you commit to being present and putting the time into making that art. You commit to facing the things that scare you and working through them. You commit to putting that ass in that chair and just getting to work.

Why do I bring this up today? Because it struck me anew yesterday. Yesterday I was inspired. Thanks to Corey Moortgart and her wonderful art. The pump was primed and the ideas were flowing, but when the kids went down for their nap and I was supposed to pick up my drawing pens and create... I chickened out.

I spent the whole afternoon going through and editing old digital photos, using the excuse that it was "creative" editing. But I knew the truth. I knew I was taking the easy way out, and what I really should have been doing was facing my fears of the blank page, not taking up my valuable nap time with busy work.

I was more committed to my fears and laziness than to my inspiration and creating.


The first step, though, is to realize what the story is. This I did. I realized my stoppage. Good for me.

Next step, re-commit myself to facing the uncertainty of what will come when I put pen to paper.

It doesn't have to be a big step. It doesn't have to be a masterpiece, but it is a step that MUST be taken.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

A Royal Pain in the...

I threw my back out putting the baby girl in her crib, something so simple, but it has made me miserable for the past week. Every move I make (except for laying on my back and standing straight up) causes it to twinge. Do you know how hard it is to raise two little children without lifting, twisting, lunging, crawling, reaching, carrying, climbing, and so on?

I think it's getting better, but it's hard to tell, because I can feel better and then pull it again and it starts all over.

The royal pain I refer to in the title, though, is not my back. It's me.

All my energy goes into being in pain, coddling my back, and feeling sorry for myself.

That is the worst, I think, feeling sorry for myself. That is what keeps me from writing, or from taking out my paints, or making the effort to do something creative. Actually, you know what? It doesn't necessarily even keep me from being creative, but my miserableness keeps me from paying attention to my creativity.

While I have been nursing my ouchie back, I have also drawn several drawings in my journal, sorted through my previous journal drawings, written at least one poem (focused on being miserable, but so be it,) written passionate and/or witty emails to old friends, cooked dinner every night this week usually with recipes of my own invention, taken a billion and one photographs (so what if my technoidiocy prevents me from posting them,) and actually gotten a chance to read a book and watch multiple movies.

Wait a minute. I have been living my creative life despite all my various sorrows and miseries.
No matter that I have the feeling I should be doing more or it should somehow look different. (Perhaps like one of those wonderful studios I keep seeing on various blogs, full of light and color and paints and fabric scraps and works in progress and all that devotion to work.)

I make a vow to myself to pay attention to the creativity that is trying to make itself known. It's there, trying to BE, just like the little tadpoles in our fishpond, just now budding their little pollywog legs, trying to be hoppy frogs.

Sometimes the transformation is so gradual, and I am looking so minutely, that it is easy to miss my growth from exhausted mom to mom who gets her mojo back. I'm going to really value those tiny little pollywog legs I'm growing. They are getting me back on my journey.
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