Creativity as Nourishment

“Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music–the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people.  Forget yourself.” -Henry Miller  

I’m not feeling inspired. I’m not in the mood. I’m exhausted. I absolutely need to clip my toenails.  I don’t have the right supplies. I need to wash the dishes and start prepping dinner. I’m too foggy.  I have to clean the toilet first. I need to call my mom back. I’d rather watch a movie tonight. I need to relax.  There won’t be enough time once I’m finished with my real work.  I get home too late.  I promised Alice I’d walk her pug during my lunch break.  I’m way too busy. I’m too tired. I don’t have time. I need to do this first.  I’m not really that creative, anyways.

I’ll never make a living off of this, so what’s the point?

Only children have time for arts and crafts, says that ruthless voice.

(Oh, the excuses! The pain these excuses inflict when they think they’re keeping us safe.) 

As Julia Cameron reminds me in “The Artist’s Way,” it is easier to create than it is to not.  But, the mind will find ways out. It will trick you into believing the story that there just isn’t time for creativity.  Crafting is for kids, it says.

While it might feel easier to just stay on top of work tasks and errands and neglect creative projects, over time, this way of doing can wear the soul down. (At least, that’s what happened to me.) We adapt to the busy, putting away the projects for later, for the next life.  The day to day might start to feel dull. Work really feels like work.  It’s easy to forget what we once did just for the fun of it, when work starts to fill the space of our waking–and dreaming–hours.  

Perhaps we forget to include segments of play into our day.  What is “fun,” but a concept reserved for children? Friday comes and the most exciting thought is putting on your PJs, scrolling through Netflix, and maybe not having to work the next morning. (This is still a worthy, even luxurious thought, of course, but context matters!)  

It’s so easy to make excuses as we put our dreams in shoeboxes.  We might fill our days up to avoid creating and cope by focusing on how busy we are and how much needs to get done.   It’s so easy to follow the rationalizations of how things won’t work and never will work and fall into the trap of believing the excuses until its just the new mode of operation.  

But, what if we are meant to create?  What if art is one of the missing links to truly relishing our human experience and embracing every crevice of it?

Could it be that we have lost a sense of wonder in the process of making only because we stopped taking care of that creative aspect of ourselves and it just withered away? 

When was the last time you let yourself make something, just for the heck of it?

What if following our creative whims will lead us, ever so gently, to the exact feelings we’re trying to cultivate each day?  What if carving out just the littlest chunk of time– even six minutes–for something small opens up doorways you never expected?  What if your life starts to feel magical and fresh? What if…?

“The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.” ―Cheryl Strayed

As much as I preach about using creativity as nourishment, I catch myself making excuses, every day.  Practice what you preach, that voice says, as I squirm and accept that it’s a signal to recalibrate. I feel a large amount of resistance to creating when I let the “shoulds” take over, especially when it comes to writing (a new art form, for me!) Despite looking back on my day with a sense of ease, satisfaction, and abundance when I have taken the time to make something, to write something, to bake something, more often than not, I find ways to weasel out of my creative time.  Full disclosure, I have a habit of busying myself with tasks so that I can feel accomplished and have something culturally appropriate to feel proud of. (Not to worry, I am replacing this outdated mindset. I’m learning to feel proud just to be a human capable of sharing presence and love, regardless of a measurable contribution to capitalism.) 

Writing these blog posts, the resistance bubbles, the excuses start to fester and itch.

Non-Doing

Breaks of non-doing often enhance the creative unfolding.  I’m imagining leisurely strolls to appreciate the flowers or the reflections in rain puddles, laying on the floor to stretch, taking a bath while listening to a podcast, even mindfully shaving your armpits or beard (if you practice the art of shaving your armpits or have a beard to groom).  

However, procrastination easily disguises itself as a break.  The tricky forces that fuel your rationalizations know this clever costume.  Just writing this, I’ve stepped away to make a pot of tea, fold my laundry, boil mushrooms, call my insurance–with no luck–take out the trash, watch a video on the therapeutic effects of aspirin, eat some carrot salad, clip my toenails, unload the dishwasher, fill the instant pot with frozen oxtail, call two rental properties as we prepare to move, and wash the french press.  I’ve wanted to take a nap (maybe I will, just a brief one), all the while finding myself repelled by my laptop and not wanting to write another word. None of these tasks–aside from the nap and maybe calling the rental properties–were necessary.  

Procrastination munched away at the time I set aside: I let it.

Yet, here I am, back again! It’s me! As I learn to let the resistance be here, feel it, welcome it to stay, and deliberately choose to create with the uneasiness as my guest, space opens up.  I hear the voices of doubt, but I choose to keep typing. Instead of seeking a sense of artificial satisfaction and distraction by packing, tidying, and cleaning (my forms of procrastination, as of late), I keep writing.  

I feel nourished for taking the time to care for what makes me feel most like myself, knowing I will tidy up the chaos, water the plants, and fold the rest of the laundry later.

“Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” – Pablo Picasso

As a child, I never questioned taking the time to create: it’s just what I did.  Like the intuitive pairing of a glass of milk with freshly made, still gooey-in-the-center brownies, making art just happened.   I cuddle into those memories of safety, of bliss. How privileged I was to have the time and space to escape into my crafts! I lost track of time under the fluorescent lights of our basement, pittering away in my little craft corner.  Endless inspiration poured onto my computer paper sheets and cardboard canvases. I kept making, without asking questions.  

After finishing my homework and bouncing on our neighbors trampoline, I’d head straight to my artist desk.  I don’t remember hearing or thinking about anything as I played; my thoughts only concerned themselves with the craft at hand.  I got lost in the colors, gently mixing clay for my fairy creatures, patiently blending watercolors for an imagined landscape,, or slowly smudging some oil pastels to resemble the lily ponds of Van Gogh.

And then, somewhere in my teens, I told myself it was time to grow up and focus on more important tasks.  I believed that excelling in my classes and securing a spot in an Ivy league demanded all of my time, all of my effort.  (I didn’t get into an Ivy league, mind you). So, I stopped making art and started doing my homework, meticulously. The type-A inside me took over–completely– and shuttled my little artist out the back door.  So long, and good riddance, she said!

I took a few art classes while in college, thinking it might help bring a sense of balance back. The other kids seemed to be having fun, and my artist friends encouraged me to take a print-making class.  Maybe they were on to something, I thought. But by that point, my mind was so in the realm of doing and keeping up, so as to ignore how sick my body was becoming and to match the pace of my high-achieving peers.  In an almost zombie-like survival mode, I forgot to remember how it felt to enjoy making art or really, how to enjoy my life. Instead, it all felt like work. Another assignment to cross off the never-ending list.

“What kind of a life is that?!” I exclaim with humor and horror as I look back at the machine-like, stress ball of a human I had become!  

It wasn’t until recently that I embarked on the path of rebuilding the human aspects of myself that I had unknowingly packaged away over the years.  This deliberate and determined act of self-preservation to take my life back into my own hands required honoring my artist self. It requires ongoing nourishment and loving the parts of me that sees magic everywhere and adds to the magic with splashes of paint, a needle and thread, and extra flake salt.

Gosh damnit, I had no choice but to find the little artist inside me and bring her back into the picture, or else continue down a colorless path of drudgery and mayhem.

Nowadays, my creative moments feel simple and almost natural.  They’re easy and light, slowly filling up my artistic well.  They might involve laying on my belly while I doodle with a cheap black pen, simultaneously delighting in the sunset through the window.  Other times, they happen in the kitchen. Perhaps it’s a batch of marmalade, relaxing as I slice strips of valencia peels, reveling in the citrus aroma and shades of orange as the evening sun beams illuminate the essential oil clouds with each cut.  Other days, creating entails pulling out my water color pencils and painting something ugly, just for a few minutes. I often send it straight into the recycling, smiling as I say goodbye. Most days, it’s pulling words out and placing them here, rearranging and experimenting as I go.  Delete delete, copy & paste: that works.

As I build in time to create, I notice that my experience begins to expand beyond just the stories and to-do lists of my head.  I remember what it was like to feel satisfied for no reason other than delighting in the present moment. I find richness and comfort in the trail of my pen, even if only to draw a smiling, stick figure sheep on a piece of scrap paper.

In the process of rebuilding myself and infusing the magic of making back into my life’s framework, I invite you to join along for the ride.  Meet yourself where you’re at. If you’re already entrenched in the magic, keep going, and invite others along. If you’re like most of us, and not sure where to start, first squash the voices of doubt by hearing them and choosing to make something anyways. (If it involves chocolate or glitter, you’ll be happy you did).  If you only have nine minutes, start there. If you’re feeling stuck, if your feeling resistance, all the better. Ask yourself:

  1. What did I once lose time doing?  (Painting figurines, knitting hats, drawing cartoon cats, baking pies, folding origami, carving soap, weaving grass baskets, sewing shoes for babies?)
  2. What did I truly enjoy doing when I was 8 years old?
  3. What’s the worst that would happen if I made the time to ______? What’s the cost of not doing it?

Now, dive in.  Just for a moment.  Even if to just find contact of a pen and the back of a receipt.  See what unfolds. You can always recycle it later. 

Report back, if you can! I’m curious what you find.

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