‘Tis the season of giving. You’re probably making your lists and checking them twice, planning gifts for your kids, your parents, your spouses and partners, friends and other loved ones. But, when was the last time you gave yourself a gift? Last month, I talked about the importance of solitude and quiet, which especially this time of year can really feel like a gift. Another gift you can give yourself is permission to go on a creative excursion.
In “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, she talks about two essential elements of creative practice: Morning Pages and Artist Dates. In an Artist Date, you get yourself out of the studio and out of your routine to experience something new and maybe see the world a little differently. You can go to an art museum, walk through a garden, visit a library, etc. One of my favorite things to do is to tuck a few dollars into my pocket and wander the aisles of an art supply store until I find something that speaks to me. Then, I come home with a new box of crayons or set of paints and I get the benefit of both the sensory stimulation of being in the store exploring new mediums and of trying something new at home. The point is just to experience something a little out of the ordinary that might spark something for your art. Will your art ever be new if you never do anything new?
Peace and Quiet
Last month, I wrote about Morning Pages from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and their goal of getting the crap out of your head so that your mind is clear for creative work. One of the other goals of Morning Pages is to slow you down long enough to get you in touch with your own thoughts. I know, that sounds a little crazy. After all, if you’re not in touch with your own thoughts, who is? But, when I got started on my recent personal creativity journey, I was moving so fast that it was like a Road Runner cartoon in my head. My legs were spinning and I was moving at warp speed and everything else around me was a blur, including my own thoughts.
I worked with a life coach during this time and one of the things she told me to do one Friday was to sit in a chair (I could drink my tea) and just sit there, not reading, not doing anything else until I really felt compelled to do something. Then, once I had finished that task, I was to sit down until I felt moved again. My reaction when she told me this was, “What???!!!! Are you kidding? What if I don’t feel moved to do anything? Do you really want me to sit in a chair all day?” Her response was, “Yes.” Well, I am a serious student so I did my homework. I settled into the chair with my cup of tea and I drank the whole thing. Then, I felt moved to go make myself some breakfast. Then, I sat back in the chair again. One of the things I realized as I sat there that day was how long it had been since I had had a day off. I mean a real day off and not a day off from work to clean the house and run the errands, etc., but a day off to play. I couldn’t actually remember the last day that I had done that so I am pretty sure it had been years. The other thing that I realized was that once I finished mentally reviewing my To Do list, I actually had some creative ideas in my head. Who knew?
A spot for some peace and quiet from Ravaging Rio and the Ghost in the Library
It shouldn’t have been such an epiphany because it seems so obvious, but it was a real “ah ha moment” for me to realize how important it was to slow down. Slow is not my M.O. at all. I am the person who can get an amazing amount of stuff done and still be in bed by 10 PM. But, that lifestyle is not compatible with creativity. Let me say that again. Running around all day from To Do list item to To Do list item getting a lot accomplished, but never stopping for a moment IS NOT COMPATIBLE WITH CREATIVITY. It’s exhausting, for one thing. But, inspiration does not wedge itself in between the grocery list and the phone calls to return. Ideas need a little breathing space and that only happens if your mind is at rest.
There is a thread that runs through the book I mentioned last month (Jane Dunnewold’s Creative Strength Training) and another book that was a lifeline to me as I climbed out of my pit of creative despair. That book was The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and the thread was the importance of writing as a creative tool. Cameron recommends two major creative tools, a writing exercise that she calls “Morning Pages” and creative excursions called “Artist Dates.” Now, I was skeptical about Morning Pages. I have been keeping a journal since I was 11 so I thought, “Okay, yeah, I’m doing that.” But, I decided to give them a full test before I rejected them and so I wrote the required three pages of stream of consciousness thoughts every day for six months. Most of it is complete drivel and that’s the point. One goal of Morning Pages is to get the crap that goes ping ponging around your head all day OUT before you start your creative work. I could see the benefit of that and I do feel like the Morning Pages I did met that goal. My brain felt calmer each day and more welcoming of my creativity. I’ve fallen out of the habit of the pages as life has gotten a little busier, but when I find my mind in desperate need of some calm, I engage in a little Morning Pages writing meditation and find that it helps.