Creative Listening

 

Lately I've been feeling a bit stuck. OK, I admit it. Actually I'm feeling really, really, really stuck. I feel uncertain as to how to move forward in life in general, and specifically in my creative life. What to do? Where to go?

I think that my tendency in this situation is to grit my teeth and forge ahead; either retreating into familiar habits and patterns, or else recklessly charging full speed ahead into something new. Let’s take a look at these responses.

The first is my personal go-to, the knee jerk reaction. Just do what I know. I do it again and again even if the freshness and vitality of certain behaviors or actions grew stale a long time ago. This can be true when it comes to our creative lives too. While it can be healthy on occasion to simply keep on keeping on, there is also a time for reevaluation in order to refocus or reset our creative vision to allow fresh air and new life to flow into our artistic ventures.

The second and opposite reaction, often done in my anger or exasperation, is to throw up my hands and plow headlong into a new venture with a vengeance. While a new path may be a good idea at times, one embarked upon without some reflection about how we've come thus far can be disorienting. It is always a good idea to examine our motives and to count the cost of a change of creative direction or focus. Only then will we be prepared for the rigors of the new adventure that lies before us!

In the midst of these times of discouragement and same old, same old that we find ourselves stuck in, is there a third way? Since I am speaking from my current position of being right the middle of the fray, I am asking this of myself. As I ponder, I am considering that perhaps a time of listening is in order. Yes, you heard me. And no, I am not a good listener either. In times of stress and duress, I tend toward the too-much-talking, shut-up-I'm-talking ranting and raving. 

But I'm running out of steam. Exhausted and discouraged, I am opting for a season of quiet. Spring seems like a perfect time to rest, to be still. If I listen very hard, I start to hear the tiny sounds of life all around me ... birds chirping, raindrops falling, trees swaying in the breeze. In the rustle of life I may sense a new vein of gold stirring within me as well, like some small creative shoot waiting to break through the soil and grow, and in due time to be shared with the world!

And after a period of listening, I will be ready! Will you? How do you respond to being stuck?

 

Order Out Of Chaos

 

I am participating in the Writing Contest:

How Writing Has Positively Influenced My Life

Hosted by Positive Writer 

I can see her still ... a little girl on a big rock. She fondly called it her "thinking rock". It was her safe place, her space that placed some distance between her and some very difficult situations. It was there that she created her first poems. And it was this poetic play with words that led to song writing, first changing lyrics to already popular songs to the words she wanted to sing, and later on to weaving her own brand of introspective storytelling. It was a true love affair ... with words, with time spent by herself, and with the turning over of ideas in her mind in order to paint a picture either of the world as it seemed, or of the world as she so desperately wanted it to be.

You might have guessed that this little girl was me. Growing up in a home with a drug addicted father, a mother who was suddenly forced to return to full time employment outside the home to make ends meet, and only one sibling more than 7 years younger paved the way for some serious family dysfunction. But it was in exactly that place that I discovered a way through the rough terrain of my day to day experience and found a growing passion to be a wordsmith. 

To bring order out of chaos ... Isn't that really what creating does? God hovered over the waters and brought order out of a primordial cosmic soup. Made in the image of our Creator, we too are creative beings. and that process that we call creativity serves us well - in the messiness of our own daily lives - to bring a degree of order to the mistakes and misgivings of our daily existence. 

This has been one of the greatest gifts of my writing. Writing brings a shape to the madness, a form to the unkemptness, and at times paints a startling portrait of my dis-ease. After the long labor of the creative birthing process - there it is! Written down in black and white in neat rows on a page that can be read and reread over and over in order to somehow make sense of it all. 

Then when the time seems right - to be shared with the rest of the world, so you also can read and possibly relate to the words. Writing at its best captures the essence of an experience in such a tangible way that it becomes one with yours, or at least gives a compelling description of yours, as the reader. And simply reading someone else’s written words can be cathartic for those who may have trouble expressing themselves, or difficulty discerning how they feel inside. 

I have had ample affirmation that this is so. I once wrote a song about my sister's struggle with depression. I sang the song at a Songwriter's showcase in a Border's bookstore in Chicago.     At the end of my set, a woman came charging forward, almost leaping over the chairs in front of her, saying that she had to have that song ... the one about depression! Who knew how much listeners would resonate with that song that told a small snippet of my story? You never know.

So I keep writing ... 

for myself and for the good it may bring to another struggling soul along the journey. Because in this writing and sharing comes a glimpse of hope, a shared sense of being in this thing together, a bit more understanding about myself and my life experiences that lets others know they are not alone in their struggles and that they too are heard and understood ... 

if only for that suspended moment when the words on the page

meet the eye of the beholder.

 

 

 

Creative Love

 

What can I say? It's the day after Valentine's Day, so a blog about love seems logical ... or at least close to my heart! I got to thinking about the way we love each other - and wondering if creativity could play a role in helping us to do it better?  

We seem to be in the midst of a revolution of sorts in planning weddings, baby showers, and other special occasions with a bent for the unique, the quirky, the not-so-traditional, and the not-quite-like-any-one-else's. This can range from a refreshing change to just plain weird, but kudos to the creative part! But I'm thinking more along the lines of our everyday life with one another. Life that includes the ups and downs, highs and lows, good, bad, and ugly of ordinary existence on this planet. Do we show honest love in a creative way to those around us?

Once when I was growing up, a small child in my church congregation was terribly injured in an accident and lost a limb. Many people reached out to the family in their time of devastation. But the story I remember most vividly was of an older man who heard the news, and immediately got up from his dinner table, grabbed his pie with two pieces already cut out of it, and headed over to see the family. 

Now while probably no one was really in the mood for pie, this spur of the moment creative act clearly said - I am taking time out of my life and coming just as I am to stand by you in this time of need. How many of us would have instead hesitated, or at least changed our clothes first, or stopped by a store for a whole pie, instead of quickly going over to simply be with them, which is what they really needed at that time more than anything else?

During my time spent mothering four young boys we had an activity called "puddle jumping”. I learned early on that little boys, rather than daintily stepping around puddles, tend to make a beeline straight for the puddles and jump right in - even in dress clothes! So rather than fight it, armed with rubber boots after a good rain, we would head out en masse to do a little puddle jumping - stomping and splashing around to our hearts' content! It was intended as a creative expression of my love for them.

My most recent example of creative love involves being the recipient of that kind of love. After returning from a long day out of town, my husband announced over dinner that he had been organizing, and had put all of my recipes into a new folder. What came out of my mouth was, "Oh nice!" But inside I was really, really sad. You see the reason I had never done that before now - even though the stack of printed recipes was several inches thick and the folder had completely ripped in half so that you had to put one hand underneath and another on top of the two halves to lift the huge messy stack of recipes out - was that on the front of that folder was a little yellow school bus drawn by the hand of a little boy over 20 years ago. I just didn't want to part with it. That little drawing made me smile every time I went to get a recipe out. 

So imagine my surprise when my husband handed me the folder and there on the front was a neatly cut out and pasted picture of that little yellow bus now happily adhered to the new folder! That my friends, is creative love! 

Creative love, or thinking-outside-the-box love, is taking the time to think what another person may actually want, or need, or even enjoy in a certain situation, and using our creative gifts to give exactly that - and what a gift it is!

Happy Valentine's Day! Do you have a creative love story to share?

 

Good Intentions

 

Happy New Year! 2015 has arrived and probably came in along with many resolutions, goals, dreams, desires, and plans on the calendar. By the time I write this blog, many of these grand ideas will have already been cast off like uncomfortable clothes, and set aside. 

I confess that I am a chief among list makers. I organize, sort, classify, and cross out. I compile and categorize. I order and number. There was a time in my life when I could not go to bed before every item on that day’s to-do list was crossed off successfully. After years of struggle I am finally content to move a straggling item or two to the next day’s agenda. 

As I set out and embark upon a new year, a blank slate, a wide horizon, I am wondering if there might not be a better way to order my days than by setting goals. I am playing with the idea of having good intentions. Not in a the road to hell is paved with good intentions kind of way, but in a mindful, purposeful way of setting intentions for the day ~ ones I intend to follow. 

 

For example, I intend to work more on songwriting this year in the hopes of recording some new material. Rather than blocking out 2:30-3:30 pm each day for that purpose, my intention is to make it part of every day, no matter whether the prescribed time slot works out or not. There is nothing wrong with jotting down a proposed schedule, but if you are like me, it rarely runs like clockwork. But with an intention held firmly in my mind and heart, I can know that even if 2:30 slips past and found me doing something other than songwriting, my intention is to work it into another time and place this day

It is an experiment, a risk. I’ll let you know how it goes. But at the end of the day, I’m curious to find out if I don’t reflect back on days where for the most part my intentions were met, and also where for the most part my guilt over mandates that did not pan out that day will be lessened. I hope so … that is my good intention. What’s yours? 

 

 

Celebration Creativity

 

It’s the holidays! Party after party! Present after present! Food and more food! Afterwards … What is left to celebrate?

If you are anything like me, despite the overfilling and overload of the holiday celebrations, I can end up feeling quite empty indeed. After the holidays as I remove the decorations that filled me with such joy before the date, I find that my house looks sad, dejected and very, very plain. The days ahead loom very, very ordinary. The contrast is stark.

I often sense the same cycle in my creative life. I enjoy the highs of celebrating a CD release, publishing a poetry book, getting a song licensed, or being told that someone heard one of my songs playing on the radio in Ireland! Break out the champagne, happy dance! 

Then Monday comes, I need to write another song, practice guitar, and do the laundry. Again.

But what if everyday ordinary life is something to celebrate? What if our days could be marked by a respect for their arrivals and passings? What if each day were the real deal, where dreams come true and memories are made?

 

As I reflect on this during the harried and hurried holiday season, I desire to lean into my regular old life with celebration. And I want my art to reflect that. I want to write poetry that comes from somewhere deep within this very human heart of mine. I want to photograph life as it comes, in all its beauty and sometimes caught unaware in its ugliness. I want to write songs that speak to the common connections that all of us share, and embrace the epic human drama as it unfolds. 

I want my art to celebrate every day, dare I say each average moment, the little things, the tiny seconds of our busy lives that zoom by - yet shape us in untold ways. Seize the day … cheers! 

How do you celebrate each and every day? How does it reflect in your creativity?

 

 

Seasonal Creativity Disorder

 

 

November is here. The time change has arrived.

Winter is approaching. 

I know many who suffer from mild to moderate seasonal affective disorder. I feel the tendency myself. And I wonder, can we suffer in this same way creatively as well? 

So many things loom larger as distractions in my creative life as the seasons change. The dark for one! Darkness early in the evening makes me want to shut down and hibernate, rather than continue any creative pursuits. Temperamental weather (at least when you are as cold sensitive as I am) means less likelihood of going outside to walk in nature, or to get the daily exercise that works a healthy fitness into both my body and my brain. The cold alone can be a deterrent to me in the things I do as a creative, as cold hands make it difficult to type or to play guitar!

I miss the long hours of daylight that promise much creative potential. I miss the mind cleansing walks that spur new thoughts and bombard me with beauty. I miss the warm sunshine and get tired of bundling in layers to keep warm, wearing hand warmers even while I work in my office! 

All told, I feel a distinct seasonal dis-order in my creative life. 

What to do?

For myself, I am using the season to re-visit, re-evaluate, and re-organize my creative life. I am going to allow time for thought, meditation, and calming disciplines that breathe new life into my daily routine. I am taking time to read and explore new creative ventures - like researching how to write a screen play - something I have ideas for, but no idea how to do! I am restructuring my creative work day to allow for different times of the day to create; trying to work with the patterns of light and dark, rather than against them.

I am hopeful this re-ordering brings a fresh perspective and new energy to my creative pursuits!

What do you find helps? I’d love to hear your comments! 

 

Fall Back

 

The time change in the autumn season is coming soon. “Fall back in the fall,” as they say. Personally I relish the one extra hour of sleep. (This is my favorite part.) Which prompted the thought, what do I fall back on in my creative life when it needs renewal and rejuvenation? 

In regard to relationships, we encourage couples to keep the spark alive with date nights. These special occasions can bring new life, laughter, joy, and a fresh reminder of what made us fall in love in the first place. Creativity writer, Julia Cameron, encourages artists to take what she calls an artist date. The idea is that once a week you will take yourself somewhere that will inspire your creativity.

I have made a practice of this. Some weeks I head to the library to peruse the colorful books of photographs or how-to books on a new subject of interest. Other times I head to a museum or to visit a new visual art display. Even a fabric store with its plethora of beautiful colors, vivid prints, and sensory textures can spark new visions in my mind. Hobby or craft stores are other options to spur ideas. And don't forget people watching on the plaza, or a long, rambling walk outside!

I come back from my artist dates with a renewed sense of my joy of creativity. Although I am an artist who uses mostly words as my tools, these artist date experiences inspire me to describe, and to somehow paint a word picture of the beauty I have glimpsed or of the thoughts that have emerged. 

Sometimes I bring home a souvenir to remind me - a photograph, a small purchase, a book checked out of the library. But mostly the imprint is left on my mind. Something that quietly stirs new life into the recesses of my brain -  to be pulled out on days where I feel stuck, without words, not sure how to proceed, or what project to work on next. 

Falling back on some of the simple things that originally inspired me in my art can help. What do you fall back on to inspire your creative self? Share with us in the comments below!                                                               

 

 

Good Enough

 

Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think I would write a blog with the title “Good Enough.” My driven and perfectionistic personality simply wouldn’t allow for it. Fast forward and this is exactly where I am and what I want to talk about … good enough. 

This summer I have been a substantive editor for a book manuscript. Between 300-400 pages of information on a topic that I am only very marginally informed about. What I estimated as around 80 hours of work has exceeded that number, and shot past it in hours of unforeseen labor. I did not get in on this project at the beginning stages. I am neither a co-writer nor a ghost writer, but an editor that has had much work to do in terms of rearranging, rewording, and reworking the manuscript. It has, at times, been exhausting.

I am now nearing the moment where it gets handed off to a copy editor; and my need to have my work (or perhaps my need to be) perfect has made a grand appearance. And I struggle. I work some more. I re-edit what I have already edited several times before.

And I realize that there needs to be a time when it is good enough.  

A small example of my neurosis flared recently as I re-purposed postcards to announce an upcoming concert of mine. First, the labels did not get formatted properly, so that some lines of print were cut off mid-line. Next, after eye-balling and doing my very best to line up the labels, they did not get affixed to the postcards in a perfectly level way. After a sigh and a swallow, knowing that I had no more labels, and a time deadline in which to deliver the postcards, I called them good enough. 

And that’s when a new thought came to me. While these little postcards may not have turned out to be the best product, a perfect product, they were the result of my very best effort at the time. Given the supplies and ability and energy that I had available in that moment - I did my very best. And that my friends, is good enough!

Share your experiences with good enough in the comments. We can learn from each other!

 

Creative Commitment

 

“For better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health …”

Over the past weekend I heard these age-old vows repeated with new eagerness and longing at the wedding of some dear friends. Stunningly beautiful. These words echoed in my thoughts as I was reminded of my own life - not just my wedded life, but my creative life as well.

 

This past month I was sick for 15 straight days and even as I begin to feel somewhat like myself again, I am still very tired, much more than usual. What began as pajama day turned into pajama week. The prognosis is still out, but blood tests have indicated some potential suspects, none of them good. 

There were days when all I could do was crawl out of bed and head to my computer for a short work session, followed by a long rest. But I continued to work. I continued writing and more specifically editing a book manuscript that is my work-for-hire freelance job this summer. I am thankful for it. And I am thankful to have creative work to do - even when I am not at my best.

I think our creative lives are a bit like a marriage. Some days are good, some days are just ok, and some days, I’ll admit, are downright awful. It is a day-to-day life; one of striving to move forward, be it a crawl or a run. There are days of plenty and days when the fields lie fallow. There are lean times and meantimes. There are sunbursts of joy, rainstorms of sorrow.

But through it all, my commitment to living a creative life continues, and maybe even grows: My desire to create beauty around me, to paint word pictures of grace, to sing songs that speak deeply to the longings of every human heart. I believe that am better for it, and richer, and healthier in spirit. Let’s make art!

 

 

 

Staying Rooted

 

Yes, I am quite aware that “staying rooted” seems like an odd follow up to my last post “chasing dreams” - almost paradoxical, seemingly opposite. In thinking this through however, I am becoming more convinced of the close relationship between the two. One seems free spirited and the other “stuck in its ways,” but let’s dig (pun intended) a little deeper.

I have recently had some enormous gusts blow though my life … those proverbial winds of change, winds of family members’ illnesses and aging, winds of busyness and ensuing fatigue, winds of discouragement. As I reflected on the gales that are currently (nice pun!) blowing all around me, I realized that none are helping me to run, to lift, to gain momentum, to fly, to chase my dreams, but rather they hold me down, blow me off course, and leave me squashed like a leaf on the ground beneath me.

But, it is in this supine position of imposed rest that I have begun to realize something … I had lost hold of some of the things most important to me; things that have laid the groundwork for a life of creativity - my roots! The roots of needing to express myself in writing, song, poetry; of simply having the time to dream. As these most basic underlying supports get left to dry out and wither, I find myself becoming irritable, tired, apathetic, and confused.

Roots are the very things that remind me of who I am, of what I feel called to be and to do in life - with my time, with my energy. And it is only when I am aware of these roots, and feel the familiar earth between my toes, that I can begin to stretch up, to reach out, to chase my dreams and maybe even one day, to fly! 

How do roots keep you connected to what is important in life? What are some of your roots? Do they help you in dream chasing?