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Like a cat…

Sleepy kittenI’m like a cat. I can amuse myself for hours with a piece of string…as long as there are knitting needles attached to it.

I spent these last two months creating and preparing a full day business presentation. It required full focus commitment.  Most days I put in 10+ hours of solid work, usually 7 days a week –  juggling to-do lists and activities, contacting people and creating the presentation itself.

What got me through was another commitment I made to myself. To turn it all off by 7 pm and knit. 

Socks, yarn and needlesI love the simplicity and complexity of knitting. It blows my mind how simple sticks, strings and two basic stitches can possess such infinite possibilities. Lace, cables, intarsia, fair isle and more. Not to mention that a piece of string can manipulated into 3 dimensional objects to cover anything from a newborn’s tiny foot to a bus.

So when I knit it feels like I’m doing something that borders on the miraculous. Not a bad way to unwind. (No pun intended.)

In my mind I do two kinds of knitting. One is meditative, where my hands instinctively know what to do. This frees my mind to wander and play. During these last few weeks I worked on socks.  It’s a pattern I know so well I could do it in my sleep. Like slipping into a comfy pair of jammies, it was familiar and comforting.

Not to put too fine a point on it, knitting kept me sane these last few weeks. I also like to think it allowed me to bring my very best to the presentation because I managed my energy in the lead up. Even when it was a crazy, busy day I knew I would sit down in the evening with needles and yarn. Like meditating, it created a quiet oasis in my day and my thoughts.

Now this event is behind me. (Yes, it was a great success. Thank you for asking.) I’m looking forward to more challenging knitting. Perhaps a lace scarf. Or a cabled pillow.AND  I’ve got time to throw in some other creative adventures now.

To start, I’m meeting my painting buddy this week. Can’t wait. My watercolours have been whining about neglect…

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Writing (and Creating) With the Door Closed

Key in LockIn his fascinating book “On Writing” Stephen King recommends that we write twice. First, write with the door closed. This is for-your-eyes-only writing.  You are the only arbiter of what stays and what goes. Then only after you are satisfied with what you’ve created should you open the door and invite the world in.

His advice holds a world of truth for all artists and writers.

For a number of years I went on retreat with writing friends. Our goal was to carve out space in busy lives and create new material. We would write in the mornings and then share our work in the afternoon, inviting comment and feedback.

On the surface it sounds like a good idea. After all, we were all writers and friends. We were all taking the same risk by sharing fresh new work. Our babies.  We understood the rawness of that work and commented accordingly.

A lot of respect and care went into the feedback. For the most part, we avoided re-writing each other’s work. But along the way I discovered that, during creative incubation, we need to trust our truth.

This was really driven home when my writer friends suggested one of my pieces needed  serious changes, almost a complete re-write. It just didn’t work for them.

However, for me, it felt complete. With some trepidation (spiced with a smidge of defiance) I made the radical decision to ignore my friends. I simply polished it and sent it out to a literary magazine. Not only was it published but the editor wrote and told me it needed no changes whatsoever. She was thrilled with it. So was I!

Feedback comes from personal opinion and we each have our vision. Bringing your work out too early introduces an element of doubt in what you’ve created when it’s still barely formed. Instead finding your way, it short-circuits the creative process.

Once I had feedback I stopped exploring the possibilities and assumed “they” had the answer. It was “creation by committee”.

I keep my writing to myself now until it’s polished, primped and primed, ready to go out in public. At that point, I’m clear on my story and what I want it to say. I’ve answered my own questions about the work.

Feedback from a trusted source at this point feels qualitatively different. Its about logic flaws or where I appear to be in love with fancy metaphor. What the feedback doesn’t do is change my voice or the basic story.

I’ve also come to realize that much of that new work I created on retreat never came to anything. Some of it never should, of course. But there are other pieces that deserve more.

However the “juice” was gone. By bringing them out too early I no longer felt the need to write them. I often tell my writing clients not to talk about a story because it takes away that pressure to write it. I know from experience how true that is.

So now I write with the door firmly closed. I highly recommend it to you as well.

Thanks, Stephen.

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Walking Barefoot

Walking Barefoot if about Getting RealNot too long ago, I got very clear about how important it is to express my creativity.

I use various forms of visual art and writing to explore ideas and dreams that would otherwise get buried by the busy-ness of daily life.

Creative output is an expression of my spirituality because it allows me to listen to my soul’s language. It’s as vital to me as oxygen.

Without it,  a piece of who I am is missing.

Since one of my focus words for 2014 is ‘Authenticity” I am choosing to live more art-fully each day. I’m even shifting the focus  my coaching to attract clients who want to make a living while they follow their bliss.

Still, it’s a constant battle. Life gets busy and crowded with too many “shoulds’. I stop making my creative explorations a priority, always thinking I’ll get right back to them. I fool myself into thinking I am actually doing something because I plan to but when I look at the results….

Then I wake up one day and realize I am lonely for my creative self. Again. 

When I was a kid, I longed for black patent leather shoes with tiny straps with every fiber of my being.

My mother, however bought me a pair of awful brown oxfords. You know the kind. Sturdy, practical and butt ugly. (Why do mothers do these things to their kids?)

I wore them for about a week, feeling self-conscious and drab. They were stiff and uncomfortable and I hated them with all of my ten year old heart. So I did the only thing any sane kid would do.

I took them to the creek down the road and set them afloat. The last I saw of them they were headed for Waterman’s Lake. For all I know they’re still there today, terrorizing fishermen who have the misfortune of hooking one.

Now, you need to know that my mother was not a woman to trifle with and I don’t remember what transpired when I arrived home barefoot. (Obviously I survived since I’m here to tell the tale.) The fact I don’t remember tells me the important part of this story for me was taking action on something I was passionate about.

My creative heart  has been wearing those tight brown oxfords again.

It’s time to fling them off and wiggle my toes on bare earth again. I want to walk barefoot through my dreams.

Want to join me?

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Fire the Committee

The Jury
All those things that get in the way of an Art-full life – other people’s opinions, big hairy fears and the committee inside our head.

After the holidays I enter a special creative time of the year before I love. With no personal deadlines (only business ones), it’s wide open spaces and lots to choose from.

Unfortunately, this is also when The Committee moves in and tries to stage a coup.  I’ll bet you have your own Committee, too.

The Committee is made up of so many voices from our past that often we don’t even remember where they started. The Committee’s weapon of choice is guilt, telling us that creative time is selfish time. This is one of my creative clients biggest struggles – working through the guilt.

Here’s how I deal with The Committee.

Those voices are long gone. The past doesn’t control my future. I can choose to listen and continue to struggle OR I can get them out of my way. (Just don’t try to ignore them. They only get louder.)

The way I get them out of the way is to physically get up, walk to the nearest door and invite The Committee to step outside for awhile.  Really. I get up, open a door, speak out loud to The Committee and escort them out of the room.

I know it may sound silly but getting into motion changes your energy. I recommend this to my clients all the time. When they actually try it, they are pleasantly surprised at how well it works.

Here’s why. Your brain can’t tell real from imagined. If you don’t believe me, think about the last time you went to a scary movie. I’m right, aren’t I?

This week, why not make a collage of your Committee as I did above. Get them out of hiding and into the light. Becoming aware of them is one more way to break the hold they have over you.

Me? I’m going to start a challenging knitting project because I’m ready for something new!

What about you? What projects are waiting for you?

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One Stroke At A Time

To be honest, I dismissed those little pen drawings called Zentangles at first. After all, it’s just doodling, right? zentangle_022113But every time I saw one of these things it fascinated me. I can’t really tell you why except that it looked like fun and the patterns intrigued my eye. And maybe, just maybe I shouldn’t need a reason to explore something that keeps piquing my interest.

So when my local quilt shop offered the class I decided to try it. And I’m so glad I did. Besides being just plain fun, it was also satisfying like a really good piece of chocolate. I came home with more than just doodles. I discovered some insights into my creative process.

1) Taking a few minutes to do a Zentangle quiets my mind and starts the creative juices flowing. Because it’s quick and not ‘precious’ I can relax and get into “Flow”. My right brain wakes up to play!

1) The “Big Picture” can be overwhelming but when I break it down into smaller chunks and simply start somewhere, it comes together in a magical kind of way. And, in my book, magic is always good when I’m engaged in something creative.

2) It’s enough that something just be fun. Not everything has to be a masterpiece or even be seen by others. To do something just because I enjoy doing it is a gift to my spirit. And the gift lies in the process, not the end product.

3) Simple isn’t always easy. Life has trained me to believe that complicated and BIG is better. Not necessarily so because when I slow down enough to take it one stroke at a time, I can breathe.

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More Powerful Than a Speeding Resolution…

Live Like You Mean It

For the last few weeks I’ve been busy in my coaching practice creating a great event to kick off 2014 . To stay on track I repeated the word “Focus” every day, like a mantra. Especially when I first woke up and “Busy Brain” tried to take me off course.

It worked so well that I decided to use two or three words as touch points in the coming year.

First, I’m continuing with the word “Focus” because it was powerful for me and produced great results.

I’ve often tried to do too many things at once, thinking I was being productive. (If you can relate, raise your hand.) This approach kept me overwhelmed and feeling like I wasn’t doing anything as well as I’d like. Vaguely uneasy, I wondered what I might be missing…and when it would come back to bite me.

Studies have shown we don’t really multi-task. We just learn to quickly switch our focus until we lose the ability to concentrate. That’s the antithesis of creativity so this year I am getting back into Focus. It won’t always be easy but re-training my brain to pay close attention to the important stuff will pay off in the end. I’ve already seen the proof of that over the last few weeks.

My second word is “Authentic”. Somewhere in my journey I assimilated the idea that being in business meant being uber-serious. It’s probably related to advice I received to be careful about sharing what I loved. Things like kayaking, knitting and painting because people wouldn’t see me as ‘professional’. I’m throwing out that advice and being myself in all parts of my life.

So in 2014 I am bringing the playful me to the party knowing my tribe will find me. I’ll be spending regular time here on my creative blog because I love hanging out and sharing here. I would love to create a community of creative hearts. 

I challenge you to find your own words for the coming year. I recommend keeping it to 3 or less. It’s supposed to be easy so that when you forget (as we both will) you can quickly find your way back.

In fact, I believe choosing powerful words will create more success than empty resolutions.

I also recommend you practice being Gentle with yourself. Wow! There’s my third word.

I’d love to have you share your words for 2014 in the comments below. Even better, how about sharing the difference they make over the coming year?