Two Questions to Ask Your Creative Self

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There’s a sticky note on the wall overlooking my desk. On it is written two questions.

Are you a cooperative component?

Or are you keeping yourself out of the game?

I don’t remember now where I heard these questions. Maybe during a TED Talk. Anyway, I keep the questions there to remind me of the role I play (or don’t play) in my creative endeavors. Depending on how I’m doing each day, the questions are either a pat on the back or a kick in the pants.

Wherever you are in your creative journey, I hope find the questions useful, too.


Jump Already

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The moment of the jump by FELIX BAUMGARTNER
The moment of the jump by FELIX BAUMGARTNER (Photo credit: matthewwu88)

One thing about creative work I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to is continually finding myself at the starting line. You finish a project, ship it, take a little time to chill…and then you’re back at the starting line. The starting line is the blank page, the blank canvas, the text editor empty of code. For me that blankness, that emptiness, that void, can be so big and so loud that I will squirm away from it any way I can. Dishes, laundry, cleaning the kids’ toenails, you name it.

Heck, I’ll even write a blog post to get away from that looming starting line. *cough*

Did you hear about Felix Baumgartner and his death-defying leap from space on Sunday? Unless you’ve been holed up in a cave (doing your creative work perhaps), you’ve no doubt heard how he broke the world record for highest sky dive, and became the first human to break the speed of sound unassisted in the process. Here’s a video of his jump, in case you haven’t seen it. He jumps at the 1:00 mark.

Look how he just steps away from the capsule. Like it’s no big thing. Just, *step* and he’s off.

A long time ago I did a ropes course at a camp. The course ended on a platform high in the trees, with a trapeze swing hanging a few feet from the platform. To finish the course, you had to jump from the platform and grab the trapeze swing. Then the crew below would lower you safely to the ground.

But first, you had to jump.

When I got to the platform, I looked at the trapeze swing and it looked so far away. I thought, No way. But the crew member on the platform with me said something I’ll never forget.

“The longer you wait, the harder it is to jump.”

When you hesitate, you give your fears room to grow. You give your inner critic time to whisper all those lies about how what you’re going to do is stupid or dangerous or how you suck and you’re a hack and you’re never going to see your dreams come true because your dreams are stupid and so are you for dreaming them.

Felix Baumgartner didn’t wait. He stepped out of the capsule. Then he stepped away from the capsule and fell 128,000 MILES back to earth.

What trapeze swing is hanging in front of you?

Stop hesitating. Jump already.

A New Appreciation for Silence

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Photo courtesy of True REST

I have a list of things I want to try this year. A kind of subset to my list of things to do before I die. This list is compiled of offbeat things that sound interesting to me, or artistic pursuits I’ve always wanted to try.

A Groupon came through for a one-hour float session at a local float spa, and I jumped on it.

Float? Huh?

Basically, you float in saltwater, free of outside stimulus. A sensory deprivation tank.

Why did I want to try this? Well, it was something new and interesting. And I wanted to get away from the noise of life and see what it was like to have an hour of little to no stimulation. No one needing my attention. No sound or images in my ears or eyes. Just total quiet.

The experience was fascinating. Here’s what I learned as a result.

1. We live in an always-on world.

We really are bombarded with noise and stimulation all the time. Fifteen minutes into my float, I realized just how noisy the world is. When was the last time you experienced true, uninterrupted quiet?

2. My brain is like a pin-ball machine.

After I appreciated how quiet it was during my float, I tried listening to my thoughts. Totally eye-opening. My brain bounces from one thing to the next. I tried to focus on my breathing (which, by the way, is really loud when you’re in the tank, wearing earplugs), and even tried counting my breaths to focus, but I never was able to truly get my brain to quiet down. This is something I definitely want to work on. I’m good at concentrating in certain situations, but not being able to focus on one thought for any length of time was very disconcerting. As a creative, I need to learn to filter out the static and focus on my art.

3. I crave quiet.

Getting to experience such stillness and quiet made me realize how much stillness and quiet are missing from my life. I don’t actually like running from one thing to the next. I’m a creative person who enjoys sitting and thinking, dreaming, scheming, etc. But I’m also a mom, wife, sister, daughter and friend. I don’t live in a retreat or monastery (though I sure would enjoy a membership at one). What I’m saying is, my life is busy and loud and more frantic at times than I’d like. Yours probably is, too. The float session made me realize how much I crave quiet and how good it is for my spirit. And my creativity.

4. I need community.

Leaving the spa and re-entering the world, I was amazed by the brightness of the sun and the beauty of the sounds around me. I walked to the cafe next door and had lunch on the patio, and I just listened to the sounds of people chatting, the cars in the parking lot, birds and planes, etc. I enjoyed them all. I had a new appreciation for the sound of laughter, the sound of transportation, all of it. And I realized, I need community. As much as I crave quiet, I also need people and interaction in my life.

If the idea of spending an hour in a float tank sounds intriguing to you, I highly recommend you try it. I plan on going again. Next time, I’ll know better what to expect, and maybe reach a new level of quiet.

6 Ways to Feed Your Creative Spirit

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Sometimes life is a rabid wood chipper chewing you up and spitting you out the other side.

Okay, that was a bit extreme. But you get it. Life can get messy and manic and leave you blinking, wondering where all your time went.

This month has been insanity on a plate. A 102.5 degree plate. That’s the same temp as my kiddo’s fever. Bleayah. The flu paid us a visit. Thankfully, I only had the roll of nurse this time around, and not patient. Regardless, looking after my daughter while holding down the fort has been exhausting.

I have a lot of compassion for people trying to pursue creative dreams on top of their everyday responsibilities (jobs, families, bills, recovering from the flu, etc.).

How can we nourish our creativity when we’re running from one responsibility to the next?

Here are few things that have been working for me over the last couple of weeks. Most of them easily fit into everyday life. Some take extra time and effort. All of them require mindfulness, instead of letting life carry us along.

When life gets hectic, feed your spirit with…

1. Music

Almost every creative I know holds music dear. For some it’s screaming guitars, for others concert piano. Music is soul food. It has a profound effect on me, and I’m guessing it does you as well. There are songs that can set my writing brain into overdrive. and there are artists I can’t listen to without plunging into a deep pit. I’ve learned that when life gets hectic, I need to be aware of what music I’m listening to and the effect it’s having on me. Whether it’s in the car or at home, too much time with the wrong music, and I’m likely to crawl into a corner and cry. No, when life gets hard, I keep the music inspiring, hopeful, beautiful. It feeds my soul, gives me energy, keeps me going.

2. Beauty

Every spring, the Phoenix Art Museum puts on a special event for one weekend only. Arts & Flowers. It’s a beautiful, museum-wide exhibit in which local florists create arrangements in response to particular pieces of art. I’ve made a point of attending the event for a few years now, and every year I am pleasantly surprised by the florists’ creations. They are sumptuous. They make me see familiar paintings with new eyes. But most of all, the event is beautiful. And beauty, like music, feeds my creativity. If you’re feeling down or dried up, surround yourself with beauty — buy yourself flowers, visit a museum, watch the sunset — and see if your spirit isn’t rejuvenated.

3. New Experiences

Sometimes we just get stale. Day after day, the same thing, the same routine, over and over and ugh. When that feeling sets in, I know it’s time to mix it up. Try something new. This month, it was pottery. A friend and I had bought a Groupon a while back for a wheel pottery class, and the timing of the class couldn’t have been more perfect. I spent two hours out of my normal routine, getting my hands dirty and expanding my creative horizons. A perfect remedy for stagnant creativity.

4. Daydreaming

Daydreaming leads to creative breakthroughs. That next scene. That new painting. That shiny invention. But who has time for daydreaming when life gets crazy? You do, of course. And I do, too. Waiting at the grocery store or preschool pick up line. Stopped in rush hour traffic. It doesn’t take a lot of time, it just takes a little redirecting of your thoughts. The best thing about daydreaming, I’ve found, is that it allows me to keep my writing brain going while I’m away from the page. I’m driving my kids to school, but I’m also noodling on that new scene, visualizing it in such detail that when I get back to my desk, it’s there waiting for me to write. Daydreaming: free, fun and necessary for your creativity.

5. Good Food

We’ve been undergoing a food revolution in our house. It started with the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. Since then, our family has been cutting out processed food and replacing it with fresh fruit and veggies. We even cut out coffee. *gasp* I know! But I feel great! No more blood sugar rollercoasters. No more afternoon lull. Finally, I understand the concept of garbage in/garbage out. I feel better — I feel more creative — when I’m feeding my body good things.

6. Joy

My dogs teach me so much about joy. This morning I watched Hannah roll around in the grass, her mouth open and the sun shining down on her. Pure joy. Best five minutes of my day. And Hobbes wiggles every time he sees me. Wiggles! Who else but your dog greets you in such a way? My dogs remind me what it means to be alive and to be joyful. And I’m grateful for them. Joy is such an important part of the creative process. There is joy in the spark of an idea. There is joy in the creating. There is so much joy when you stand back and see what you’ve made. One thing life is really good at is robbing us of our joy. Sometimes it takes simple things — like rolling in the grass and sunshine — to remember what it means to be joyful, to be creative, to be alive.

The Perks of Living Next Door to a Yogi

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My dear friend and neighbor is studying to become a yoga instructor. The particular flavor of yoga she’s been studying lately is yoga nidra, or yogic sleep. Here’s an article from Yoga Journal explaining what it is. When my friend asked me if I would like to be one of her practice students, I didn’t have to think twice.

Let’s see…stressed out from an overly active spring break and trying to reconnect with my creative side? No brainer.

So, last Friday night, I tiptoed over to my neighbor’s house for my first full yoga nidra session. I’d had a taste of nidra during a yoga session led by another yogi friend, but this was a whole session of just guided relaxation.

It was a little bit odd. And it was a whole lot of wonderful.

As my friend talked me through the half-hour session, I literally felt my body downshift. All the places I’d been holding tension let go, but not in a smooth way. No, it was as if I had an attack of myoclonus. First my left shoulder jerked, then my right hand, and my left leg. One after another, my muscles thunked into quietness, stillness.

Then, out of nowhere and as vivid as a movie, my mind jumped to a modern art gallery/store I’d visited in Chicago. I remembered in detail the things I’d seen and how it felt while I was there. There was no logical progression from what my friend was saying in the session to lead me to think about that location, nor had I been thinking about it during the day. I was just there.

It was odd. It was also kind of cool.

The best part of the session was how refreshed I felt at the end. I practically floated back to my own house. Shoulders relaxed, not a care in the world.

I’ve practiced other kinds of yoga on and off for a number of years, and have experienced firsthand the benefits. Now I see the benefits of nidra, too, and look forward to trying it again.

Luckily, I know where to go, and it isn’t far.