I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be”.
Martha said to me, very quietly: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”
“But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”
What is the metric of decision-making in our lives? What bearing do we follow? How do we hear our inner guidance among the cacophony of others? How does one approach risk? Navigating one’s life is tricky business.
Artist/author Elle Luna addresses this very topic in her recent book “The Crossroad of ShouldandMust, Find & Follow Your Passion.” I was listening to her interview on the Beyond podcast and perked up my ears. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone address this issue in such a concise way. Rather than head vs heart or gut vs brain she defines the quandry as what you SHOULD do VS what you MUST do. This could be as huge as choosing a profession to choosing to take a break and read for 30 minutes, or should I finish this blog post or go out and work in the garden? (I chose the former.)
I purchased the book and have been very pleased with both the content and its presentation, a mixture of type, Luna’s illustrations, handwritten text, and memorable quotes in a recycled tag board binding. It’s a quick reference to navigating the yearnings of one’s soul.
Age has made that process easier for me to distinguish between the voices of head and heart as I have the luxury of looking back over decades. Still, it is always nice to have a guidebook when you have lost your way. I’ve added it to my bookshelf alongside The Artist’s Way and Austin Kleon’s books. It’s worth a read- especially if you’re a creative type.
Check it out!
At the Crossroads
having tasted the straight, well-traveled road of should
“a statement of the beliefs or aims which guide someone’s actions”.
Over the years I have collected some words of wisdom that have guided me through this adventure we called life. I decided to finally write them down in a format that was easily accessible. At first, I considered a small booklet but then I settled on a poster format. This would serve as a mini “Graffiti Wall” that I could access in an instant
This was a project I did not want to fuss over (avoid perfection, just get ‘er done). I grabbed a 14” x 11” piece of cardboard, painted a coat of yellow paint over it with a little embellishment, put my cartoon self in the center, and then started writing my words and phrases on the board in different colors and sizes. There is plenty of room for more guiding principles as this is an ongoing project. You can never have enough words of wisdom.
I keep this posted in my studio and glance at it now and again. It keeps me grounded as with my personal mission statement- but that’s a whole different post…
“Live by this credo: have a little laugh at life and look around you for happiness instead of sadness. Layughter has always brought me out of unhappy situations.“
Start with a shape, a circle perhaps? Or maybe begin with a line, straight, zigzag, or a series of turns, twists and loop de loops? Add onto what you started with maybe a pattern…Circle, line, circle, line, dots. Punctuate with a triangle- just for fun. Take those lines for a walk and see where they take you, putting off any specific destination in mind. Work with in a small area like 2”x 2.”A calendar block, the back of a business card, or a post-it note is perfect. A small space provides comfort lest you prefer journeying in a vast wilderness of white space.
Work in pen so you won’t be tempted to erase. Fill in some shapes if desired. Put letters, numbers, keyboard symbols, and words in your tool box. Keep working until you feel an end point. Then leave it. Come back later and look at it with fresh eyes. Often you will be charmed by a doodle that you didn’t like initially.
The rules are simple- no erasing, no judgment, no starting over. Let your hand go where it wants to go. This is merely a creative exploration to see what comes up. As you progress with this practice, maybe add recognizable objects. I seem to be fond of birds, teapots and tea cups. Sometime my random shapes become objects without intention. Odd cars and animals have been known to appear and I delight in building on to them.
If you are a writer you can doodle with words and letters. Start with one word and through a stream of consciousness; add more words that might relate. Feel free to put them upside down, sideways, smaller, bigger, thick or thinner than the original word.
This exercise functions in some ways like Julie Cameron’s morning pages. Allow your pen to express what it needs to express. Doodling has freed me to examine myself, my fears and my willingness to explore. It allows me to have a little fun without worrying about outcome.
I started this practice because I no longer had time to do my visual art daily due to all my writing and home improvement projects I had undertaken. Inspired by the book, If You can Doodle, You Can Paint, by Diane Culhane; I knew I had the time to do at least a daily doodle! My day planner had an unused square. First thing in the morning after I planned my day, I started doodling in that square before I got out of bed.
After several months of this, I have fallen in love with these quirky expressions to the point doodling has become a favorite art form. As with any practice it has evolved. I have developed more of a style with reoccurring themes. Some of these have wound up as part of larger art pieces, and some I am going to expand into pieces in their own right. Some have inspired stories, but the vast majority remains “creation meditations.” This detachment from outcome can lead me to places I never would have gone. As a result, I am less inhibited in my creative process. My doodles have gone wild inhabiting my journal, notes, or wherever there is a fallow piece of white space.
I doodled all through high school and university courses to help keep me focused. Remembering this, when I taught a middle school, I allowed students my doodle during lectures when they did not have to take notes. For many people like me, lines provide an anchor. Now much later in life, I have again allowed myself the pleasure.
Try it! Buy yourself some special pens. I am especially fond of the fine line pens from Jet Pens if you don’t have a local art supply store you can visit.
PS- see more doodles on my new instagram feed @almostdailydoodle. I’m also blogging at One Sweet Earth.
I don’t have anything to write about today but say, you should really see the Hawthorne tree in the driveway bursting forth into a blaze of magenta blooms and how about those pie pan size exploding pink peonies on the kitchen table that Mary brought over as a May Day treat from her garden, eye-catching saffron-colored bundles of stamens and pistils in their midst.
I don’t have anything to write about today but the blaze in the woodstove on this chilly May morning cheers me, as well as the news that Raymond saw a pair of scarlet tanagers in the trees by the west fence line! I haven’t seen tanagers in years around this place- so exciting to know they are still around. They must be migrating through. I wonder where they go? And darn, wouldn’t you know that we have a pair of ground squirrels that moved in and are making a fine Swiss cheese mess of the yard along with the huge party of voles living below ground.
I don’t have anything to write about today but wow- all of a sudden the lettuce is big enough to pick in the garden along with some kale and chard and even a few snow peas to throw in the evening’s salad and I’m so excited about the flower seeds I started that are almost ready to plant. The vegetable garden will be so colorful this summer!
Back to birds, the black-headed grosbeaks returned to the feeder and will probably stay to nest in the yard. Oops, the hummingbird feeder is empty.
Also blogging about living sustainably and making nature your friend at One Sweet Earth
This is a repost from 2017. I have been traveling and have not had the time to create fresh content. This essay of Gilbert’s is timeless no matter if you are a writer, artist, or musician. I reread it from time to time just to give myself a reality check!
I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Gilbert. She became instantly famous with her novel, Eat, Pray, Love but many readers don’t realize that she was a writer way before that and has published other noteworthy books. She writes a lot about creativity. If you haven’t read her book “Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear” it’s a great read on the subject. Also, she has a riveting TED Talk that is well worth a watch.
A friend forwarded this essay of hers on writing. I enjoyed this so much and thought I’d share. You could substitute the words creative, artist, or musician for the word writer and it would still apply.
Sometimes people ask me for help or suggestions about how to write, or how to get published. Keeping in mind that this is all very ephemeral and personal, I will try to explain here everything that I believe about writing. I hope it is useful. It’s all I know.
I believe that – if you are serious about a life of writing, or indeed about any creative form of expression – that you should take on this work like a holy calling. I became a writer the way other people become monks or nuns. I made a vow to writing, very young. I became Bride-of-Writing. I was writing’s most devotional handmaiden. I built my entire life around writing. I didn’t know how else to do this. I didn’t know anyone who had ever become a writer. I had no, as they say, connections. I had no clues. I just began.
It’s the growing season and my garden is being planted in stages. I marvel at the magic of seeds- how something so small can germinate to become a huge sunflower or a plant that offers juicy red tomatoes.
With the exceptions of weeds, seeds cannot manage successfully on their own in a garden. The soil must be tilled and enriched. Then once the seeds have been planted they must be nurtured with proper watering and attention lest they be eaten by some pest or choked by weeds. It’s work to bring seeds to their full potential of flower or food.
Ideas are so much like seeds. The soil of the mind must be fallow and fertile. To have a fallow mind, one must be open and ready to receive the seeds of ideas. Fertile means paying attention and being open. Ideas often come when the mind is relaxed like when you’re taking a shower, on a walk or doing something innocuous like washing the dishes. Having a head full of earbuds and social media is not conducive to collecting seeds the muse has to offer.
When they come, catch them by writing or sketching them in a notebook less they blow away into someone else’s “garden”. Then give them the attention they need to germinate.
Like seeds, not all ideas will manifest. Some are not viable. Then others are past their shelf life. Don’t be afraid to throw them out and get new ones.
I’ve had ideas like these artichoke plants that surprised me and grew into something much more than I expected. I started these plants last year from tiny seeds and now they are 6-foot record-setting monsters!
You don’t have to plant a garden. Just get a pot with healthy soil, some seeds, water them, and enjoy the magic of germination.
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!