How we spend our days is of course, how we spend our lives – Annie Dillard
Unfortunately, when we were born we did not come with an instructional manual on how to live our lives. We are all individuals with unique traits and circumstances. As we go through our days there can be a lot of trial and error. There are some principles though, that will serve all of us, especially in this crazy digital age.
As a creative type, I keep an arsenal of motivational reading nearby. The creative practice not often respected by our culture so I need all the cheerleading I can get. Thus said I was more than excited when Austin Kleon released his third book Keep Going about 10 days ago. I even preordered a copy, unusual for me. The tag line of the book is “10 ways to stay Creative in God Times and Bad.” If you’re sighing right now and saying “Too bad I’m not creative,” think again. We are all creative beings. With few exceptions, we all have opposable thumbs. That means we can make, cook, write, etc. If you have kids – that’s the ultimate creation. If the word ART trips you up, just insert the word LIFE or HUMAN.
Like Austin’s other books, Steal Like an Artist (on unlocking your creativity), and Show Your Work (on how to become known), this is a small affordable manual ($9 on Amazon). It’s an easy, read full of his entertaining graphics, photographs, and words of wisdom as well as some of his kids’ artwork. It’s divided into 10 chapters, shown below.
I have come to some of the same realizations as Kleon himself but it is so validating to see them in print. If you are in need of a reference in how to live and stay creative, or know someone that does, this is a good one. Worth a read, worth a place on your shelf!
It’s a risky business calling yourself an artist or a writer. People tend to hold you in higher or lower esteem than you actually deserve. Then there is a matter of assumptions… Attend a social gathering and then introduce yourself as a brain surgeon to one group a people and then a waitress to another. You will be treated accordingly. Thus I prefer to avoid labels entirely preferring when asked what I do using more of these descriptors:
I write, I make art, I play guitar, I sing, I garden, I am recovering from teaching middle school, or whathaveyou. Then there is the added pressure of living up to your label. It’s far more enjoyable to be a verb.
I would rather be a verb than a noun
I would rather emerge, shine, fly, dance
And kick up my heels
Rather than just be a person, place or thing
Let me describe an action, state or occurrence
And wedge myself in the predicate of a sentence
Give me the energy to escape the box with a pretty label
The start of our winter was mild with temps in the upper 50s and sunny skies. The bulbs were fooled into poking their heads up a month early. I worried about another summer of unseasonably warm temperatures and drought. The snowpack was low. Now our familiar Western Oregon weather has returned. Rain and even a little snow dusts the yard. There was even enough powder snow where friends and I drove up to Mount Hood last week for a day of cross-country skiing. I haven’t been able to do that in years.
I celebrate winter. This is my creative time. It is a time to come inside, literally and figuratively. Nature needs rest and renewal and so do we.
THE RAINS CAME
And the humans complained
But not the Earth who soaked the sky water deep into all its pores
Nor the trees who quenched their thirst in grateful gulps from deep roots
Nor the bulbs gathering strength for their dazzling spring displays
Nor the deer hungry for tender green grass
Nor the salmon longing to swim upstream
Nor the bees dreaming of anthers heavy with gold pollen and pistels leading to chambers of sweet nectar
Nor the seeds shivering with anticipation of their impending emergence
Nor the bears conjuring images of plump berries in their sleep
My second piece of prose “Bull’s Eye” was published recently by “Montana Mouthful” a literary magazine out of Missoula Montana. This was in their latest“Haunted” issue on page 15. They also were the publisher of my first prose piece “Looking for Abraham” back in their August Secrets issue on page 29. Both were blind submissions so I guess got lucky! In both cases, having a submission deadline got me focused and finished– even though my inner critic was whispering “not good enough.” I’m so glad I followed Natalie Goldberg’s advice “Let others be the judge of your work”.
It’s another hot smokey summer in Oregon. It appears that temperatures of 90 and above and forest fires are the new normal. Summer used to be my favorite season here but now that the jet stream has settled further south, spring and fall will get my vote. Then air quality has been so poor you really don’t want to be outside doing much.
Motivation has been difficult. My studio does not have air conditioning. If I don’t get work done first thing in the morning, it doesn’t get done. I think I’m getting summer cabin fever. Who knew there was such a thing?
Rather than just push through it, my usual MO, maybe I should learn to roll with it and make this season the one to read, watch movies, and write more? Maybe this is a good time to relax my expectations and go with the flow….
Everyone should have a special place that brings a sense of belonging and rejuvenation, where you can leave the cares of the world behind and just focus on nature, relaxation and creative pursuits. I just returned from one of my special places, Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Center in Northern New Mexico where I attended a pit firing workshop. Being there is like stepping into a Georgia O’keefe painting. She lived and worked on this very property.
Here I am with a tribe of other creative and like-minded people. We are hikers, writers,
singers, welders, quilters painters, printmakers, and ceramic artists. The ideas and energy we share in our individual workshops and at communal mealtimes is infectious. This is important to me as an artist for I work alone and need an inflow of new inspiration to keep my own creative fires burning. There is a camaraderie that is quickly built in a brief week here.
Three weeks ago I finished a three piece commission that I labored over for over 2 months. They are three 12 X12 acrylic paintings of the two dogs and one cat of my late Father’s wife, my dear “Ma Penny.” I was pleased with them and so was she.
Completion is a good thing. You’ve put in the time and effort and then you find yourself done! After the initial feeling of euphoria and accomplishment, however, there you are. What now? It can all be a bit disorienting. There is a favorite John Lennon saying I have “It’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive.” What next? Where was I with my own personal trajectory?
Luckily I’ve been in this spot all too many times before. Here is my recipe when you wind up in a “grey zone.”
Don’t panic. Be still.
Write in your journal
Do some cleaning/tidying in the studio.
Look for inspiration from the work of others. Pinterest is my favorite source of visual inspiration.
Do some warm-up exercises- no expectations. Scribble, splash, write lists of words that fascinate. Dedicate them to the gallery of the recycle bin or the collage box.
Eventually, the creative fairies take the bait. Like seagulls when you throw a piece of food to one, another will come until you have a flock of them around you.
I finally came up with the following work (after cleaning out my paper files & filling up my garbage can full of warm-ups…….)