Reclaiming Your Spark: Elizabeth Gilbert On What to Do When You’ve Lost Your Passion

After traveling for over half of September, I have returned home to find I’ve lost my creative mojo.  It’s there but it’s not ready to come out of hiding.   Writing? Art?  I am just not motivated at the moment and despite my best efforts- it’s not happening by forcing it. After reading this piece by Elizabeth Gilbert today I’m taking a different tack.  I’m off to clean out the shop building so the right side of my brain can sort itself out.

Reprinted off Oprah.Com

201004-omag-liz-gilbert-949x534“I’ve always considered myself lucky that I do not have many passions. There’s only one pursuit that I have ever truly loved, and that pursuit is writing. This means, conveniently enough, that I never had to search for my destiny; I only had to obey it. What am I here for? No problem! I’m here to be a writer, and only a writer, from my first cigarette to my last dying day! No doubt about it! 

Except that two years ago, I completely lost my life’s one true passion, and all my certainties collapsed with it. 

Here’s what happened: After the unexpected success of Eat, Pray, Love, I diligently sat down to work on my next project—another memoir. I worked hard, as always, conducting years of research and interviews. And when I was finished, I had produced a first draft that was…awful. 

I’m not being falsely modest here. Truly, the book was crap. Worse, I couldn’t figure out why it was crap. Moreover, it was due at the publisher. 

Demoralized, I wrote a letter to my editor, admitting that I had utterly failed. He was nice about it, considering. He said, “Don’t worry. You’ll figure it out.” But I did worry, because for the first time in my life, I had absolutely no passion for writing. I was charred and dry. This was terrifyingly disorienting. I couldn’t begin to know who I was without that old, familiar fire. I felt like a cardboard cutout of myself. 

My old friend Sarah, seeing me so troubled, came to the rescue with this sage advice: “Take a break! Don’t worry about following your passion for a while. Just follow your curiosity instead.” 

She was not suggesting that I ditch my passion forever, of course, but rather that I temporarily ease off the pressure by exploring something new, some completely unrelated creative endeavor—something that I could find interesting, but with much lower emotional stakes. When passion feels so out of reach, Sarah explained, curiosity can be a calming diversion. If passion is a tower of flame, then curiosity is a modest spark—and we can almost always summon up a modest spark of interest about something. 

So what was my modest spark? Gardening, as it turned out. Following my friend’s advice, I stepped away from my writing desk and spent six months absentmindedly digging in the dirt. I had some successes (fabulous tomatoes!); I had some failures (collapsed bean poles!). None of it really mattered, though, because gardening, after all, was just my curiosity—something to keep me modestly engaged through a difficult period. (At such moments, believe me, even modest engagement can feel like a victory.) 

Then the miracle happened. Autumn came. I was pulling up the spent tomato vines when—quite suddenly, out of nowhere—I realized exactly how to fix my book. I washed my hands, returned to my desk, and within three months I’d completed the final version of Committed—a book that I now love. 

Gardening, in other words, had turned me back into a writer. 

So here’s my weird bit of advice: If you’ve lost your life’s true passion (or if you’re struggling desperately to find passion in the first place), don’t sweat it. Back off for a while. But don’t go idle, either. Just try something different, something you don’t care about so much. Why not try following mere curiosity, with its humble, roundabout magic? At the very least, it will keep you pleasantly distracted while life sorts itself out. At the very most, your curiosity may surprise you. Before you even realize what’s happening, it may have led you safely all the way home.”

 

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Studio Notes- August 2018

IMG_0602IMG_1066 (1)I’m still working away trying to hone monotype techniques on my gelatin plate.  A monoptype is a one -of-a-kind print.  I cheifly use stencils and then sometimes stamps to make my images.  Then I go back in with colored pencil to highlight.  The following two prints were inspired by my visit to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in May.  I closed down the place gawking at all the beautiful seal life.

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My nightly delight is Lizzy, our little feral cat who pokes her head up at the door begging for food with her pathetic meow.  I can finally pet her and pick up her bony little body.  Most likely she has feline leukemia.  We feed her all she wants but she never gains any weight.  I had to paint a picture of her.IMG_1023

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“Lizzy”  watercolor, India Ink and colored pencil

Intuition and Finding Your Inner Penguin

penguins-429128_1920The Emperor Penguins of Antarctica group up in the thousands during the breeding season.  Once their chicks are juveniles, the adult penguins depart for open water to feed and bring home nutrition.  They have this knack, when they’ve returned from their foraging expeditions, of locating their young among a throng of look-alikes, solely by recognizing their chick’s call in a cacophony of penguin noise.  Parent penguins have a knack for listening.

As I’ve aged and my other physical faculties are weakening, my inner voice- my intuition is growing much stronger.  Like the parent penguins, I’ve learned to recognize it from the din of voices that surround me in my external and internal worlds.

It’s a skill anyone can develop but in our left-brained, modern culture, it’s not valued nor spoken about much.  It requires quiet, stillness, and patience.  Intuition is an inner voice easily drowned out by messages we receive on a daily basis- live your life like this, look like this, buy this, buy that, your intuitive messages often running counter to them.

Continue reading “Intuition and Finding Your Inner Penguin”

Creativity by the Hour

stop-watch-396862_1920I’m a master of avoidance.  Once I’m in my studio I”m ready to roll but getting there past all the distractions and excuses can be tricky business.  Really, does laundry need to be folded and put away first? The “Thing” that needs to be manifested from your psyche in words, paint, ink, or whatever medium you work in is the priority.  Here is a system that works well for me…

  1. Make an appointment for an assigned studio time. The earlier in the day, the better. Your cell phone is not invited.
  2. Enter studio, close door set timer and say to yourself “for one hour I will focus on nothing else but THIS.”
  3. Do not answer the phone, check email, or do anything not essential to your project on your computer- NO EXCEPTIONS!
  4. Work, work, work for one hour and then STOP. Continuing for more than this often leads to overworked material.
  5. Take a break for at least a half an hour and do something mindless like weeding or doing the dishes.  Stretch and get outside for a breath of fresh air.  This acts as a reset for the creative part of the brain that’s been working hard.
  6. Repeat steps 1-5 if needed

Most of the time I can get an amazing and satisfying amount of work done in a focused 60 minutes and I’m good for the day. If I have more to do, I find that by taking a break I come back to work reenergized with “fresh eyes”.  I also use the timer method for unpleasant tasks around the house in 15 minutes increments (ex. cleaning out the fridge- ugh).  You can accomplish great things in a small measured amount of time!

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Your Home is Your Canvas

Several weeks ago a friend apologetically said that she could not join me and friends on our annual creative trek to Ghost Ranch Retreat Center in N. New Mexico this July. I started this tradition about 9 years ago when I felt I needed to escape my daily life and focus on just art – no other distractions.  Since my initial trek, numerous pals have joined me in the fun.

This particular individual, who had not been there previously, remarked that she had too much work to do on her house, specifically remodeling a bathroom, to take up an artistic pastime at this point in time.  I remarked to “Honey, your work on your house IS an artistic pastime and to recognize it as such!  Your house is your canvas”.

Too many people separate ART from their daily lives ( I wrote more about this in my post There is “No Word for Art in Their Language”.  It does not have to be a sanitized framed rectangle celebrated with appetizers and wine.  Anytime a room is decorated, an outfit is planned, a garden designed, or a tasty meal is prepared, one has to think about combining different colors, shapes, textures, (and tastes in the realm of food), creativity is being expressed.  There is art in all of those endeavors.  I have to say that after remodeling two bathrooms, one kitchen and redecorating my living room, this is some of the work I am most proud of.

No Ideas?  Simple…just go on Pinterest, Houzz, or similar websites and steal a few!  Below are some of the touches I’ve added to my home “canvas”.

 

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Backsplash created with a stamp I cut out of foam rubber stamped on manufactured bisque tiles and then glazed and fired.
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Interior bathroom door.  I use masking tape, gray and white interior house paint, and the same foam stamp I made for the tiles.

 

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Kitchen backsplash of tiles I made myself.  I used a crazy quilt pattern with scenes around my home.  This was the project from hell but I love the results.

 

 

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I’d Rather Be Printmaking

I love making monotypes  These are one of a kind prints, not produced in an edition format.  Currently, I work on a gelatin plate that I made myself from Knox gelatin and glycerin.  It has the feel of a flat gummy bear.  The ink is rolled on and then I press the paper down on the plate.  Stencils and textures applied to the plate make interesting patterns and shapes.  At times I have a concept in mind- other times I work from my intuition alone.  When I see a composition forming, I apply finishing touches with stamps, stencils, and colored pencils.  Sometimes  I apply collage elements.

Every piece I make is an adventure.  There are no mistakes.  If I don’t like how a piece is turning out, It can cut up and be turned into greeting cards, bookmarks, or go in the collage box for use in another piece.

My particular process can be pretty involved.  I have tried to document most of the steps.

Salmon River

 

 

I’d Rather Be…

Just for Play, Just for Fun

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“You could sell those”

a familiar phrase

then watch my passion

turn to drudgery

as I turn out clones of my art

for a few shekels in my pocket

or I could continue to create butterflies

just for the joy of watching them fly

setting them free

without attachment

savoring the delight

as they land

in another’s hands

 

It takes a certain amount of energy to sell ones work- at least as much as making it.  After the New Year, I have given up such notions to just play and experiment with printmaking,  clay, and mosaics. It’s liberating to just experience a process without attachment to profit or outcome.  Play is undervalued in our culture.  It is so rejuvenating.

 

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Courtesy Austin Kleons Blog, “In defense of Hobbies”