Yesterday I had a terrible, crappy morning. The computer acted up and I couldn’t review course submissions. I left for the studio, and when I arrived, a stray dog wandered on the property and refused to leave. It wasn’t aggressive, but was definitely needy. I don’t need a needy dog. Can’t call the city. They put dogs down after three days. What to do?
The projector wasn’t working properly when my students attempted the presentations scheduled for the morning. The coffee maker spewed coffee all over the kitchen and had to be dumped and cleaned. I was ready to tear my hair out, and then got an email from my mother, saying a dear friend of ours– battling cancer and losing– had taken a downward turn during the night.
That put all the other dumb stuff in perspective, and of course, you can probably see the good cry coming. The daily crappy stuff is a pain, but losing someone? There aren’t words. And it’s all rolled together into a Herculean effort to manage everything emotionally. Sometimes we can’t. Tears are inevitable. Tears and sitting with the overwhelm, until perspective returns and a portion of the grieving passes.
What I’m describing happens to each of us. One day may be better than another, but things we can’t control and can only respond to happen all the time. Modern life offers experience and access beyond our parent’s wildest imaginations, but the more we manage, the greater the potential for overwhelm.
So keep practicing the strategies that guide plans and projects forward. It was exciting to read Susan’s plan to research a clothing style and then use her skills to design garments, while also thinking excitedly about possible surface design applications. I was all in–wishing I lived closer so I could see the end result!
But also happy to have yet another confirmation at the power of writing and planning. If you haven’t written a plan for yourself yet, or haven’t started your shitty first draft on History, Process and Content, please begin. Yes, it might be intimidating. Yes, it might take time.
But you came here to make changes in your life, and that doesn’t happen without effort. So take a deep breath and jump in. Picking up the pen or turning on the computer is the hardest part. After that, you’ll reap the rewards.
It continues to be an odd time. People feel unsettled. I can’t even count the number of people I’ve heard from who are struggling with their balancing acts. Meaning, feeling as though there are too many plates to keep in the air. I often feel that way myself.
So a number of you have written to me privately to express concern and regret that you haven’t had time to comment as often as you did at the start. I understand and you are off the hook. Actually you were never on the hook! You put yourself there because you are responsible and want this to produce a positive outcome. And it will.
Because the wheels are turning. One person sees a better way clear to balancing her role as a professor with seeking more creative personal time. Another loses computer files, but still perseveres and keep writing. And those who write to me to apologize for not writing this week? It’s OK.
because the main thing is to keep the ideas percolating. Keep questioning how you allocate your time. Think about what could go out, so that something can come in. Embrace a move, or studio clean-up, or the making of a very special suit for a young man as a gift. Keep showing up. Challenge yourself to re-calculate your thinking. NOT in a huge, overwhelming way. Rather in a gentle, be good to yourself sort of way.
Alignment is getting real about what you love and what you’re good at, but it’s also accepting “what is” without beating yourself up. Small steps, but steady steps.
You only need to keep moving.
Making and taking time has a rhythm all its own. I don’t think “finding the rhythm” happens in just a few days. Rather, it’s like all the tasks we’ve set ourselves. First we recognize ourselves in our writing. Then we engage the Rebel to protect time and intention. Each step of the process requires reflection, followed by action. The path is not necessarily linear. Sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back. There are doubts. No program works magic. It’s what we do with what we learn that makes the magic.
If you haven’t had as much time to work on assignments as you might like, or if you’ve hit a rough patch, or an unexpected detour, don’t beat yourself. Guilt is wasted energy. Give yourself a break– but don’t give up on participating. This is a community and we’re all flowing in and out of it at our own pace. Stick with us. Pick up where you left off. Keep showing up.
And think about this: plenty of studies have concluded that what we think about (AND what comes out of our mouths) shapes our experience of reality. Unfortunately we are often not intentional when it comes to disciplining our thoughts. The simplest idea related to this, is that of the glass–half empty or half full. Which is it for you? Someone recently told me when we ask that question we forget we can always top off the glass!
This isn’t a new idea for most of us. It is however, quite possible that while we know we could be handling our thoughts differently, we don’t make any effort to do it. Maybe we’re lazy. Maybe we’re afraid it won't work and we’ll be disappointed and even more stuck than we feel right now. I get it. But the fact is, you are the boss of you. It takes effort to turn around a thought pattern cycle that has existed for awhile (maybe most of your life) but what’s the alternative? Staying stuck? Dealing on a daily basis with guilt or disappointment? You could hire a therapist and some people do. But you can also do this for yourself.
The clock is ticking, and your mind is a wild thing. It’s like a child and needs to be shown how to behave. There are steps you can take to train your mind to think differently. Begin by writing a list of things you can think or say when doubt or guilt begins to contaminate your day. If you think thoughts that are repeat offenders–those are the ones we default to when we’re not feeling secure in any situation–notice them. Write a sentence that rebukes the thought. Keep it handy and use it. Another helpful step? Plan the comeback–the line you’ll think or say that affirms the goodness in you. The right you have to succeed. the belief you deserve that while somethings in life don’t work out, overall you’re still good.
Spend some time on this. Make it part of your practice. It will help. Have a good week.
Thanks to everyone who was able to attend our Skype call yesterday. While we were all learning the ropes, I think we shared some good ideas and observations, so I am grateful that the time worked for several of us, and I hope a time in the future will work for an even larger turnout. Send questions or comments, which will help me plan for another call.
Our conversation was recorded and will be available for everyone to hear. Our topics were creative intuition and strategies for focusing. Which folded back into the ideas posed in Week 4. Handling limitations! Or encouraging/choosing them.
When I think about all the early books I read and lectures I listened to (as long as fifteen years ago) - I have to laugh. It was all delicious, engaging, and intriguing; but so far over my head! I needed slow unfolding in order for it to make sense. I needed to cull ideas that didn’t work for me - so I could more clearly focus on ideas that did work for me. Synthesizing ideas - and translating them into a new model, distinctly my own, was a stretch and challenge for me; just as many of the ideas presented so far have been challenges for some of you. I had to write my own shitty first draft just like everybody else. At that time I knew I had to get writing. It was time to start. No matter how unready I felt.
These are my observations from this week’s lesson:
- Not everyone needs to clear out, or set limitations. Whether you do or not is driven by your own level of discipline. Maybe you came in with discipline at birth and if so; more power to you. Maybe you acquired the skill over time. Bravo. Maybe you are just beginning and you haven’t yet encountered it as an issue, and maybe you never will. As always; knowing yourself is the right answer. We’re all on the continuum somewhere.
- The writing you are doing is first and foremost - for you. It's part of the cross-training. IF you use writing to work out your thoughts - whether it's cleaning up or designing a new piece, or dismantling the committee - It’s there. It can be revisited, torn up, revised; but rarely ignored. You have a tangible record instead of fleeting thoughts. Anything you post is a gracious gift to others. It’s evidence of your trust and willingness to share so everyone benefits from your experience and thoughts.
Whether what you've written is actually read by other participants in the group isn't important. Some people comment frequently. Some not at all. That's the agreement and it works out just fine. We'll each get what we need as long as we write for ourselves and then choose to engage in whatever way makes us comfortable.
Be mindful of quotes that are inspirational but not instructive. I benefit more from substance! I needed a direct assignment. A direct activity. That’s the stuff that GETS me somewhere. I need something real to work with. For example, some of the inspirational phrases we love most, tell us very little. The sentence: "If you treat problems as possibilities, life will start to dance with you in the most amazing ways.” sounds great. I might want to keep it around for inspiration, but what does it actually mean? How do you turnIf you treat problems as possibilities, life will start to dance with you in the most amazing ways... into a practical application? How do you retrieve it from its lofty realm and use the idea in real time; here in your real, very limited studio space?
That's what we're struggling with. One angle might be to analyze the sentence by writing about it - then it's made real and you can pick it apart and figure out what it really means. Where does it lead your thoughts?
Writing led me to translate that line into this one: If I treat problems as possibilities, I won’t quit working just because I am discouraged. If I keep going, I will feel good about not stopping! I might actually have a breakthrough! A great idea could come from working, or it could be serendipity. Either way, there’s a good chance I’ll be floating on air - pumped with ideas - when I leave the studio at the end of the session. And then Life will feel good and amazing. And I’ll feel like dancing.
My best to you, as always!
Every week I begin with a heartfelt thanks for the assignments you posted. It takes time to participate. Please continue to read as time permits; if you haven’t been able to follow postings as they occurred.
I would like to share observations I made as I read, because I think they are relevant to everyone. And then I’ll add my own.
- For the longest time, I thought there were people who never had any doubts about their abilities or worth. It was a huge eye-opener to read an article by the Dalai Lama, in which he admitted to his own doubts, and need to start each day “new.” Christians are well aware of the doubts Jesus experienced during his brief lifetime. Mother Teresa spent her entire adult life doing miraculous good in slums in India and yet regularly admitted her own doubt about her purpose. We all experience doubt and the forces of the committee. Admitting it is the part that brings release. Surrendering to our humanness. And making art anyway.
- In another session of the course, an interesting point was made concerning the presence of “collective unconscious” ideas that we inherit at the cellular level. There is astounding research being done on this topic. Another point made: some old thinking and/or issues arise from circumstances that happened so early in development we don’t have any conscious recollection of them. Human beings are complicated, luscious creatures. When we acknowledge the reality that we all have “stuff” to dig through (whether we know where it came from or not) – we are capable of eliminating barriers between us. The barriers that keep us separate from others because we worry what “other people would think.” If we can get past the embarrassment of thinking that somehow in our imperfection we are different from other people, we have a real shot at comfort and authenticity. Be imperfect today and admit it to someone. What a release!
- Shocking to recognize that the very people we would expect to support us- are often the ones who are the least supportive. It’s painful when the people we thought loved us are the ones who can't show up for us. But that's about them. Not us. All we can do, is love them in the Universal sense, when it can't be done on a personal level. My mantra when Zenna was growing up was I love you, but I don't like this behavior. It's important to be clear about the difference. When someone continues to be abusive, then you have done the best you can. The healthy Self you’re working so hard to be, has every right to set clear boundaries around those bad behaviors and put some distance into the relationship.
- The committee never disbands completely. Is there a Committee Hall of Fame? If we were all in a retreat center somewhere (wouldn’t that be great???) we could split into groups and write skits about the committees and act them out. That would be good for a laugh; and probably a cry.
So keep going. Acknowledging the power of any exterior force is half the battle in defusing it. YOU have the inalienable right to choose how to think about everything that happens to you. Harness that strength and let’s chart a course for our 4th week - and the power of limitations.
Of course I have my own preconceived ideas concerning the Rebel–which were evident in the essay I shared with you. But just so you know, I choose to stay as open and in present time as I can when material is posted to Open Studio! It’s my opportunity to learn from what’s offered myself–to benefit from an aha moment as much as the person doing the sharing.
There were several aha moments last week, as I read the writing and looked at the expanded squares. They included:
• When you don’t know how to do something and/or have no previous experience with it, just the doing feels new and delicious—or scary and intimidating. Being present and witnessing to those reactions and working through them is its own rebellious act. Because you keep going and don’t let the newness of it shut you down. There’s the other side, too–when you’ve done something like this before and then need to either embrace it from a new perspective or even get over (or set aside) the perception of it that you bring when you’re thinking of doing it again...
• Being present to the desire to be rebellious for its own sake has its downside. NOT realizing when that’s where you are slows down your ability to move forward intentionally - because the rebelling becomes a distraction. One of those paradoxes. Sometimes surrendering to the realization that rebelling isn’t in your best interest (at that point in time or process) IS the best strategy.
• So isn’t it all about balance, being mindful, and knowing thyself? There’s a reason when we talk about archetypes, we talk about a house of twelve. Without knowing much about that symbolic language, you can know intuitively which side of yourself is operating in any given circumstance. And we each have several selves. Sometimes your secure part takes over. Sometimes the less secure part is operating. Having figured out my twelve archetypes, I know when my Rebel should lay low and my Guide should take over! Sometimes it’s my Damsel that’s reacting to the situation, and then my Rebel/Gambler needs to step in. I like being able to describe and understand myself using these terms, and doing so supports the basic idea we worked with last week - that the Rebel in each of us needs to be cultivated. But in a way that allows us to engage the Rebel to serve our highest purpose. That is, to become the centered, self-actualized Artist we are each capable of becoming.
This first week is always a pleasure. The stories that pop up, tumble out, and unfold poignantly are a delight to read, and in addition to being an introduction to the role writing can play as a cross-training aspect of making art (which is what I call EVERYTHING we’re making) we also get to know each other in a way that feels intimate, when you think about it. Wouldn’t it be great to go to a dinner party and after the main course was served, have people go around the table and describe a memory of cloth? I think it would be funny, warm and surprising and any age or gender could join in - it’s THAT universal!
So thanks for sharing, and if you didn’t have time or are feeling a little shy, no worries. There is a deadline - of course I write a review at the end of every week. But there isn’t a deadline in the sense that it’s ever too late. It isn’t. These stories are for us in this space and build a sense of community - but most importantly they are for you - the artists/recorders. For your perusal, reflection, and pleasure. Where could they lead in terms of making art?
I had the thought recently, that a course like this is a little like a marathon. Everyone has similar goals - to complete the course (race) to learn something - maybe even the equivalent of making a best “time” the way a runner does in a marathon. But it’s also an apt image because everyone starts out at the same time - and even runs as a pack at the beginning of the race. But then the point is to establish an individual rhythm or speed - and to know what that best pace is - so that there is enough endurance to finish the race.
It’s like that here. We’re all starting out together. But as the course unfolds, each of us will establish the rhythm and pace that suits us best. We don’t have to run with the pack in order to succeed. The whole goal is to get to know ourselves for who we are - and to embrace that individuality within the support system - the safe space - of the group.
So think about how you pace yourself when things are going well - and set the intention to honor that pace over the course of the next ten weeks. Slow down when you need to and sprint when it feels great to do so! That’s what building stamina looks like.
I felt like sprinting when I read all the selections you shared. We’re off to a magnificent start.