Spectating Instead of Creating

Sometimes I feel like I’m the Queen of Getting Stuck in a Rut, which, as far as royalty goes, isn’t very glamorous. (And when I say “rut” I don’t mean a routine, either, because one of my ancillary kingdoms is the Duchy of Procrastination, neighbored by the Earldom of Wasting Time). For me, when I’m focused on a project I develop a strange fixation with having all of my “active” work rhythms–journaling, reading, listening to music, plus of course writing–be in service of the project I’m working on. Which means that when it comes to leisure activities–when I know I should be refilling the well in an intentional way–I don’t have the mental capacity left for anything of substance and turn to fluff. Bad movies, Regency romance novels, Candy Crush Saga. Not that there’s anything wrong with fluff! But (wo)man cannot live on fluff alone.

And then the next day I feel guilty for failing to refill the creative well, and I buckle down even harder on what I’m allowed to read and write during active work time.

Rinse, repeat. Binge, purge.

Sigh. Like I said, Queen of Ruts.

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A few weeks ago, I bought a ticket to the pre-Broadway world premier of Moulin Rouge: the Musical. Now, even though I love musicals, I almost never see them live. First, there’s the price, which is always steep, especially if you don’t want to use binoculars to see the actors’ faces. Second, there are the crowds, which make me nervous on a good day and can induce panic on a bad one. And third, there’s the husband who hates musicals, which is usually an easy excuse to let myself talk myself out of going based on the first two reasons.

But this time was different. I kept staring at the glamorous poster and thinking about the extravagant movie and its bohemian ideals: Freedom, Beauty, Truth & Love. I knew I needed this. So–gnashing my teeth at the price–I booked a ticket before I could change my mind.

I’m SO GLAD I did!

moulin rouge

The venue–the historic Emerson Colonial Theater–was stunning, frescoed and gilded in true Fin de Siecle glory. And the show was magnificent! From the very first number I was completely swept away, transported to Paris and the Moulin Rouge. I laughed, I cried, I cheered, and I clapped along to a seriously dizzying array of elaborate pop-culture inspired songs and dances. I think I barely blinked for three whole hours, enraptured in the sensation of being a spectator to someone else’s art. And when the curtain finally fell and I walked out into the night, I felt full. I felt inspired, with stories and songs and images dancing in the darkened set of my mind, just waiting for the spotlight to shine on them.

So maybe the choice isn’t between gruel and fluff; rigorous work and mindless fluff. Going forward, I’m going to try and challenge myself to participate in other forms of art that will challenge, excite, and inspire me. My own art can only grow in leaving it behind for an hour or two.

Author’s Note: The original title was changed after a dear friend pointed out a problematic element that I had failed to register. I offer sincere apologies to anyone who may have been offended and I will seek to be better in the future.

Resolution: The Act of Resolving

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Happy New Year!

That gif is a pretty accurate expression of my feelings for 2017. Get thee gone, year from hell! Although to be honest, mostly I sat inside my comfortable home, in my comfortable blue state, and watched my friends and fellow-citizens dodge the fall-out of this current administration.

I don’t personally have much to complain about, but because of that, I feel it’s even more important to keep my senators on speed dial.

But it’s January 1st, 2018! That annual clean slate where we all vow to be our better selves, at least for today. Do you make resolutions? I usually try to, and I figure if I write them down in a blog post, I’ll be more likely to keep them.

You’ll hold me accountable, amirite?

I looked it up, and the root of “resolution” is the Latin is “resolutio”, from “resolvere”. And according to the Latin Dictionary, resolvere is a verb that means to loosen| release| disperse| melt; relax; pay; enervate| pay back; break up; fin. I find the contrast interesting; the word’s root has to do with letting go, but we now apply it to a set of goals we clutch with grim determination.

But maybe there’s a seed of wisdom there. Maybe instead of adding to the list of things I want to accomplish, I should think in terms of what I no longer need.

For example, last year one of my resolutions had to do with diet. Starting January 2nd, I adopted the 5/2 eating plan. (That’s 2000 calories a day for 5 days a week, then 500 calories a day for the other two.) I’ve managed to stick with it, and in addition to losing 45 pounds, I’ve dispersed a whole lot of baggage around my body and my weight.

My commitment may have added to my to-do list, but as a result, I’ve let go of a serious source of stress.

Another of last year’s resolutions had to do with the current political climate. When 45 took office, I promised myself I’d do something every day to #resist. From the Women’s March, to calling my electeds, to putting my money where my values are, I’ve done my best to live up to that vow.

My most recent activity has been writing postcards to support Democratic candidates in contested states. I joined PostcardsToVoters.org, and now whenever I see a headline that makes me angry, I request another batch of addresses. It’s a small task, but it’s a way of paying back, of dispensing with helplessness and replacing it with hope.

Last year’s resolutions have become a way of life, but other than recommitting to them, I haven’t come up with anything new for this year. Well, other than that my basement could appear on an episode of Horders, and I pretty regularly beat myself up about that…

Bingo.

I hereby resolve to reduce or eliminate the self-flagellation that comes from having a basement I’m ashamed for strangers to see.

Now it’s your turn….

If you’ve got a resolution, either a commitment or a letting go, leave it in the comments! Either way, I hope 2018 brings you hope and peace and joy.

 

 

Bypassing Writer’s Block

FullSizeRender-2I got it bad. And I’m not talking about that Usher song from 2001 (hello yes old). I’m talking about the dreaded writer’s block.

Every writer I’ve ever known has a different take on writer’s block. It’s actually something we Scribes have discussed a number of times on this very blog. Some suffer from it it; others don’t. Some claim it doesn’t even exist. (I claim they’re lying). Some say the only way to get over it is to work through it, which is pretty solid advice. Others recommend refilling the well by revisiting beloved books and movies. Some say you should give in to your instincts and just lie in front of the TV watching bad Christmas movies and crying into your wine until the literary gods finally take pity on you and send you a decent sentence or two. (What’s that you say? Oh, that’s just me?)

Honestly though, it sucks to feel like your “muse,” or whatever you want to call it, has deserted you. For better or for worse, it’s easy as a writer to let your sense of self-worth get all tangled up in your creativity, your productivity, and the pace at which you create art. And that’s kind of where I’m at. This fall has been tough for me. Between ongoing edits of my forthcoming novel, a big move accompanied by a lifestyle shift, and a death in the family, I haven’t had much time for new projects, and even when I have tried for new words, I’ve been deeply disappointed in the results. Which makes me even more anxious about writing, or not writing, aaaaand the cycle continues.

IMG_1969And then I picked up a book on a whim at my local indie. Riding on the recent trend of hygge–a Scandinavian-inspired cozy lifestyle–the book includes a number of fairly accessible craft ideas. Now, my adventures into crafting have historically followed this pattern: 1) I get really freaking excited about a craft, 2) I impulse-buy all the supplies for said craft, 3) I spend like one hour actually making the craft, 4) I realize that crafting is hard, and 5) I never touch said craft ever again. But this particular book included some information that I hadn’t realized before.

Apparently, scientific research is beginning to find that creative activities can lead to relaxation or a meditation-like response similar to that induced by yoga, while also raising neurotransmitters associated with elevated mood. This news wasn’t so surprising once I thought about it–my own anecdotal experiences with past art projects backed this up. So I bought a decent amount of supplies, figuring that if I wasn’t writing I would at least be creating pretty things to hang around the house during the holidays.

IMG_1970I’ll skip right to the end here, folks. This experiment has been a resounding success. I mean, I’m laughably bad at crocheting, I have paper-cuts from Danish origami, and my wreaths look like they were made by children, but I have ideas again. Something about having my hands and front-brain occupied seems to leave my creative brain free to float wherever it pleases. It does, in fact, feel very zen to just zone out and let my hands work until bam! An idea strikes and I’m running for the closest pen and paper.

That’s all I’ve got so far–scribbled notes and half-finished crafts. But even if that’s all this experiment nets me, it’s worth it just to have something new in the arsenal to banish that dreaded writer’s block.

The Meaning of Life

adventureDon’t worry, I’m not going to get all deep and philosophical on you. Not today at least, 😉 One of my goals for 2017 is to have more of a social life. I’ve been really neglecting that part of living for the last few years while I holed up at home working to make my writing career come to life.

Now that it has, the meaning of the phrases “I have no life” or “get a life,” have been on my mind a lot. But I’ve come to realize that for writers (or at least for me) “having a life” means something different than for others. Bear with me here.

Like 95% of other writers, I have a full-time job. That means my writing/marketing, domestic duties, and social time are crammed into weekends and the five hours a day that aren’t spent sleeping, commuting, getting ready for work, or working. (I know, wah, first world problems.)

I’m in my mid-to-late 30s, so when I do go out, it’s not the same way I used to think of “going out.” I’m so beyond the bar/club scene of my early 20s, I never want to think about it again. Most of my friends are married and have kids (I have neither), so we don’t interact in the same ways we used to.

Given this, I guess it isn’t  surprising that many of my friends are now people I know only online (*waves to Spellbound Scribes*) or who I know from writing groups. I think part of that is just the way the world is going and part of it is because as writers, we’re online so much anyway and we naturally flock together.

Once you are out of college, making friends gets way harder. That is one of those things I wish someone prepared you for beforehand. Having a life morphs into finding your tribe, which for me, just so happens to be mostly online. (Without the internet or social media, we might be having a very different conversation.)

The more I thought about it, I realized, I do have a life, just not one that fits traditional parameters like a hobby, sport, or regular social gathering such as drinking or going dancing or playing poker. It wouldn’t play out well on a TV show. Let me explain:

  1. For me, reading and research are kind of hobbies, even though they both also feed into my second job as an author. They are both solitary pursuits and that suits my introverted self just fine.
  2. I interact with writing friends online on a regular basis by email, social media, blogs and messenger. I’ll be honest, I trust and like some of them way more than some of the people I’ve known IRL for years.
  3. I meet with my local Romance Writers of America chapter monthly, and several of the members have become my friends outside of the writing world. I am immensely grateful for them. Because that group doesn’t know a stranger, I’ve even come out of my shell more.
  4. I go to several conferences a year, so I have the chance to interact with my tribe face-to-face and also meet new friends. This also gives me a great chance to travel, usually by myself, to places I otherwise wouldn’t get to see.
  5. Just because I’m single doesn’t mean I don’t go out. I take myself to dinner frequently (dear God, I am an expensive date!), get a monthly massage, and sometimes go to the movies if there is something I really want to see. I’ve even been known to go to the art museum by myself.

Based on this, I think what I’m wanting to focus on is throwing in a few more “just for funsies” type things that don’t involve either of my jobs. Going to see a play/musical, taking a class not related to writing, something like that. I have a life, I would just like to enrich it.

How do you define “having a life?” How do you work in a social life with the rest of your life? What do you do just for fun? 

PS – Thank you to Shauna for posting for me in late December when a personal matter left me temporarily unable to think of anything else.

Bring It On, 2015

Well, here we are. It’s the last few days of 2014. I don’t know how it’s been for you, but a lot of 2014 has felt like this for me:

robin meltdownAnd I know I’m not the only one. Just in my circle of friends, we’ve had deaths in the family, threats of foreclosure, divorce, illness, ends of business relationships, books cancelled, plans shot to hell. There have been some good things, too. Property bought. Business relationships begun. Toxic ties cut. Friendships and partnerships started. But the highs have been not nearly high enough to drag most of us up from the lows, and at times this year’s treatment of me and my loved ones has felt like Achilles dragging Hector’s mangled corpse behind his chariot.

My husband and I have been trying to close on a house since December 2. Our new closing date is tomorrow, 12/30, and I have no idea yet whether or not we’ll actually manage to sign the paperwork and transfer the keys. Especially since we were supposed to do a walk-through today, and no one could FIND the keys.

It’s the last few days of the year, and instead of celebrating, I feel like this:

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This year has punched me in the teeth repeatedly. This year was the tenth anniversary of my older breath’s death. My mom’s sister died suddenly on my mom’s birthday. I’ve watched relationships around me crumble, seen friends suffer and suffered some myself. My career is going through tough new growing pains, and I spent a large portion of the year struggling to even put words to the page. The first house we were under contract for, hubs and I ended up not buying, and the fights we had during that time were among the worst we’ve had in the ten years we’ve been together.

I’m so ready to see the back of this year, I may well just sleep through the ball dropping and do my celebrating once it’s actually 2015.

“So, what?” you’re asking. “What does any of this even mean, beyond serving as the biggest buzz kill since they offed The Mother on HIMYM?”

joy thief

Honestly, I’m not sure. It probably doesn’t mean anything. Lots of us have had crappy years. Some people will have crappy years next year, too, and some people will have great years. Still more will have highs that balance out the lows, and 2015 will pass in a blur of excitement and disappointment.

I don’t want to bid farewell to this year on a negative note. I know there’s every chance 2015 won’t be remarkably better. But if I give in to the negativity that has threatened to crush me and mine almost every week since this time last year, I won’t be able to get out of bed tomorrow morning.

frowny face

This has not been my best year. But when I think about where I was last year, in spite of all the suffering I’ve experienced and seen, I know things have improved in a lot of ways. My professional situation is better, even if it feels like I’ve taken three giants steps back. Hubs and I will likely have a new home very soon, even if it doesn’t happen in these last days of 2014, and our relationship is even stronger than it was before we got started down this road. My friends, despite some very serious troubles, will come out the other side stronger, and we’re lucky we’ve been there for each other. My poor family has been through worse.

And while it feels like tempting fate to try to count my blessings, like searching for the silver lining will only cause a cave-in of the mines of Fate, I have to hold on to the wonderful things that have happened this year. Things like seeing my writing friends at Sirens Con in Portland, experiences like learning to spin and making my own yarn, bonds like the ones I share with my husband and my best friends—those are my talismans against another year of struggle. Even when things got bad, my loved ones held my hand and helped pull me through it—and, even better, I think I’ve done the same for some of them.

friend

Yes, this year sucked. But I bet all of us can find a few nice things to say about 2015. And in spite of that irrational (and incredibly common) fear that focusing on the good might bring on the negative, most of us have a few bright moments to cling to, a few friends to hug tightly, a few smoldering hopes and dreams that only need a breath of air to spring back into the burning fire that keeps us going.

Even if 2015 isn’t a whole new world, it is a good breaking point, a natural end and beginning. Maybe it won’t be your best year yet. Maybe it won’t be mine, either.

But maybe… just maybe… it will be.

Happy New Year.

 

 

 

 

Know (And Prioritize) Thyself

You know that old adage, the one about how you can tell a real writer because s/he writes? I don’t think that’s the exact phrasing, but you know the one. Writers write. If you want to be a writer, write some words. How can I be a writer, you ask? Well, you do some writing.

It’s kind of a pithy, snide sort of adage, but there’s truth at the heart. If you want to do something, you jolly well find a way to do it. In short, you make it a priority.

It goes for other things, too. If you want to be a faster runner, you run. If you want to learn to play guitar, you practice. Want to speak Portuguese? Well, you probably need to go to a class or something. At any rate, you say to yourself, “This thing I want, well, it’s important to me. Therefore, I am going to dedicate time, energy, and brainwaves to it. And by George, even if I have to give somethings up to do it, I’m gonna do it.”

Simple as that.

But while it may be simple, it’s certainly not easy.

We all have so many commitments, between work, family, and, you know, living, it’s hard sometimes to make space for one more thing. Sometimes, when you’re exhausted after a long day, you don’t want to wring out your brain for just a few more cogent minutes of study or creative work. And that’s fine: sometimes health and sanity take priority over wishes and goals.

At times, prioritizing is largely about self-knowledge, which is one of the trickiest things we humans can do. It can be difficult to distinguish between “I want this,” and “This is important enough to me to dedicate the time, money, energy, and sheer willpower to make it happen,” and that difference is the gap between having Pop-Tarts for dinner and moving to Ireland for a year.

So how do you do it?

Often, the proof is simply in how you live. We unconsciously prioritize every day: it’s why I’m a pretty good spinner and a terrible guitar player. Some things are harder to make happen, though, and that’s why we have to work, every day, to figure out what are the most important things.

But other times, it takes soul-searching, angst, and a re-evaluation of one’s life before those priorities surface. And when that happens, it can be a crisis, or it can be a brilliant moment of awakening. These realizations often come in a tidal wave of shock, when we realize we’ve been distracting ourselves from what really matters, or we finally acknowledge that we’ve been doing nothing to pursue one of our Big Dreams.

So perhaps it’s worth the price of a little ongoing self-study to keep the priorities straight, if only to prevent those foundation rocking moments of cold clarity.

Have you experienced this? Do you prioritize based on self-knowledge? How do you decide what’s really, truly important to you, and how do you prioritize those things?

Transition and Creative Lives

Nature, caves, stalactites, stalagmites, spelunking, rock formations, rocks
Photo credit: JS Nature Photos, CC license.

I read recently that there is a difference between change and transition. Change is something inevitable that happens to you and around you. It can be a surprise or it can be something you seek, but it’s the external impetus that stimulates internal shifts. Transition is a whole other beastie.

Some of you are already aware that I’m going through a divorce. I recently separated from my husband and moved out with my two adorable kitties. Change.

I have a book coming out in less than three weeks. Change.

I now have a thirty minute commute to work instead of ten, though I have my car back after two years. Change.

Those are a lot of big things. Some are positive. Some are at best mixed.

In periods of intense change, it can be really difficult for your mind to adjust. For the past two or three months, I feel like I’ve been running on a hamster wheel. Spinning through copy edits, tangoing with Craigslist, every day a welter of emotions that range from ecstatic joy to complete bewilderment to rage to grief to hope to relief to overwhelming sadness to terror.

That’s one of the hallmarks of transition.

I’ve found myself thinking at least once a week (often once a day or more) that I just have to get through this week. I just have to get through today. I just have to get through this month. Next month. This summer. This hour.

Transition, ultimately, is coping with change.

There are many ways to cope, and for creative people, change and periods of transition can have several different effects, all of which fall into the category of “normal.”

1. Creative constipation.

Sorry, I couldn’t help the alliteration there.

Sometimes when life is in upheaval and your mind is struggling to keep up with the influx of stress and various stimuli, your creative battery gets depleted. Things you normally do as an outlet may not come easily. Which is to say that they may feel like you’re chasing a dragon with a pair of pliers in an attempt to remove its molars.

This can be compounded if you do something creative professionally and have to contend with deadlines.

One way to cope could be trying something else to get your brain working in a creative fashion. If you’re a writer, draw or paint something, even if you think you suck at it. Build something. Hell, open up Paint and scribble. Bead. Knit. Crochet. Macramé. Weld something (probably take a class or so first).

2. Creative catharsis.

Sometimes you’re able to funnel stress through a creative lens like a sunbeam through a magnifying glass. Making your art can become a coping mechanism in and of itself, helping you work through feelings and emotions, problems and solutions.

Or you might have tried the above suggestion and found a new love of weaving or chain mail manufacturing. Sometimes just finding a focus in the midst of chaos can be enough to sustain you through a difficult time.

3. Creative chaos.

You want to write a D&D based novella. And paint a picture of railroad ties. And sculpt a life size Misha Collins. Maybe you want to take up dip candles. Or beeswax rolling. Or blacksmithing.

Yeah, that is a lot to juggle.

When there’s a lot going on in your life, sometimes the creative part of your brain can take a cue from the outside world and make you temporarily curious about ALL THE THINGS until you have a half dozen unfinished projects scattered around the house and Gorilla Glue stuck to the bottoms of your feet and you can’t remember what project you were even USING Gorilla Glue for.

Take a deep breath. Make sure you’re not under water first.

4. Creative cutoff.

It can help sometimes to do something uncreative, a completionist task that allows your brain to see one thing through from beginning to end that will have an objective sense of beginning and end. This could mean washing the car or other mundane jobs that might seem tiny, but sometimes it helps just to know you can finish things. That life keeps going even when each text message makes you cringe and you want nothing more than to bury yourself in your comforter and eat gelato all day.

There’s no one way to transition when change shifts the fault lines of your life. Most people don’t even have one set thing that happens. You might bounce back and forth from catharsis to constipation to cutoff to chaos — that’s just part of your mind coping.

The only real catalyst to transition is time and a healthy sense of cognizant engagement with whatever is going on in your life. Time plus sticking your head in the sand does little but prolong the process. Time plus engagement means you can rejoice in the small victories each day while recognizing that there will be setbacks. The important thing is to allow yourself to hear your own needs and listen as much as you can. You won’t always have the ability to take a week off and hide in the woods. But you can take a few hours and go to a park to sit and recharge.

And if that fails, maybe throwing pots can help — on a wheel or at a wall.

Just try to make sure there aren’t any people between you and the wall. 😉