We Need to Talk

Megan Chapman Edinburgh 2
Courtesy of Megan Chapman, Edinburgh


It’s time to burn the soapbox.

Artist Parent Playground was never meant to be a soapbox, but I’m afraid that’s what it’s turned into. I want to fix that. This is meant to be a community for people who identify as artists (or creatives or DIY-ers or whatever) and are in the thick of parenting. It’s meant to be a give and take kind of place where we can vent and share and inspire each other to seek some semblance of balance and sanity. But so far I’m doing most of the talking. I’m good at talking, but I want to get better at inspiring conversation and not just word vomiting all over the web. Maybe you like hearing me go on and on about details of my experiences, but that strategy isn’t really growing this blog, so it’s time for a change.

I’m not sure what it’s going to take to foster this community, but I’m looking forward to inviting other artist parents to write articles here and to start posting more regularly myself. It’s time to stop letting this blog gather dust because I “don’t know what to write.”

Odds are you don’t have time for reading loads of long-winded wonderings anyway, so I’m going to try posting some bite-sized thoughts and inspirations that might be a little more digestible. Maybe then there will be less pressure on me to write stuff and less on you to read stuff.

And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be willing to respond or better yet, take what is posted here and run wild with it and make it way better or practical or whatever it needs to be to be relevant for you.


Parenting and art don’t have to be at odds. And we as artist parents don’t have to perform this wild balancing act alone.

So please share your thoughts! I’m not looking for, “Wow, Justine…great job! Good thinking!” This isn’t Justine-validation central. I’m looking for “Here’s another way to handle that situation” or “Here’s a project that I’m working on” or “Hey other artist parents, how do you make time for X?” or “Hey–can I write an article on APP?” or “I found this great resource for artist parents, check it out!” or “Can you write something about X?” I could go on–clearly–but the point is I’m feeling bored of that. It’s your turn.

So let’s talk! Here’s a little start:

If you feel inspired, please comment with a photo or description of a creative childproofing solution you have used or heard of.


Comment or with any suggestions for things you’d like to see on this blog. 

I’m excited to hear from you. And happy almost Spring!


The Writing Window


Writing Window“Routine” is a slippery term for me these days.  I had gotten used to a fairly predictable pattern of living with our two-year-old. I could plan around her waking, napping, and bed time schedule. With the arrival of her baby brother, routine went out the window. Big sister still sticks to her schedule for the most part, but the baby eats when he wants to eat and wakes up anytime. Even if I only just fell asleep myself.

I tell myself that I’ll get back into exercising and writing and reading and doing all sorts of healthy and creative things once the baby starts having some kind of recognizable rhythm. But who am I kidding? Did I really commit to all of those things before he was born? Nope. So I can’t really blame him. Instead, I blame Opportunity Overdrive.

What’s Opportunity Overdrive? It’s when the stars align and I get a nice pocket of time all to myself to do whatever I want. It’s magical for about two seconds and then crashes into the toxic chemical reaction that happens when a pile of “coulds” meets an even bigger pile of “probably shoulds” and yanks you in fifty different directions until you explode.

I should clean the kitchen. Or maybe the bathroom. I could run an errand without needing to get anyone else in or out of the car. That would be nice. I could listen to some music with less than kid friendly lyrics. Or I could write. A blog post maybe. Or that novel I’m dying to write. Or I could just read a book. But I should shower. I could call my mom. I should sleep though. Gosh woman, this time is precious. Choose quickly before the kids wake up!

BOOM. I could and should do so many things. Most of the time I choose the housework, sleep, or binge watch something on Netflix. And a lot of the time I end the day feeling dissatisfied. It’s as if I didn’t accomplish anything, no matter what I chose to do.

Thanks to my husband’s aunt, I have discovered the Writing Window. We recently got the heartbreaking news that this aunt has breast cancer. She is a brilliantly creative woman and a wonderful writer. I have often been inspired by her artistic prowess and zest for life–a zest that she so enthusiastically spreads even though she had been dealt a tough hand even before her diagnosis. She writes an amazing blog called “Embracing Chaos” that I highly recommend and she has an admirable practice of trying to write every day between 6:00 and 7:00 in the morning. That hour is what I’m calling the Writing Window.

In her honor, I decided to send her positive creative vibes during her favorite writing time by doing some writing of my own between 6:00 and 7:00 every morning in September. I have no word count to reach. No subject I have to adhere to. I just have to write something in that window of time that isn’t a to do list. I can write for 5 minutes or 50. Quality and quantity have no place in the Writing Window. Writing just has to happen. That’s it. This simplicity makes it the perfect combatant for Opportunity Overdrive. At last, I am making space for continual creativity in my life again.

I know we’re already a week into September, but I invite you to join me. Pick a Writing Window for yourself–an hour that works for you–and make sure you write something–anything–within that window for the rest of the month. Maybe you’ll like it enough to continue beyond September. I hope you find this practice as revitalizing as I have. And while you’re add it, send some healing and positive creative vibes into the universe for other artists struggling with all of the craziness that life throws their way. We need to stick together in sickness, health, and everything in between.

Double the Fun


Double the Fun

I’ve talked about children being our masterpieces before. They are our most precious creations. They are living, breathing works of art that we strive to shape into the best versions of themselves that they can be. Of course, they wind up doing most of the work on their own. Like the best artistic endeavors–they lead us more than we lead them, but they always start out needing our guidance. If we weren’t there–if we didn’t take action– our children–artistic and otherwise–would never be born and they certainly wouldn’t survive infancy.

I was already convinced of the artistic beauty and power of raising children when we just had our daughter, but now we have a son too. Two children. Two masterpieces. But wait–how can I develop two foremost works of art at the same time?

I never doubted that my heart would expand to love my second born child as much as my first, but I did fear that my daughter would feel displaced by the arrival of her little sibling. Would I be able to give her enough attention when the new baby came on the scene? Would she suffer when I had to split my focus? Would I be able to handle the responsibility and the strain of being tugged in two directions?

I’ve found myself battling the same concerns in my artistic life. I have stalled writing my novel. I still intend to write it. I still think it’s important and worth writing. I’m just struggling to give it the attention it deserves. I think I psyched myself out by setting the goal of completing a rough draft by the time my second baby was born. That was a bit of a stretch to begin with. On top of that, I’ve rekindled another passion of mine–creating mystery games for parties.

I think I managed to convince myself that I couldn’t love writing my novel and mystery games at the same time–that I wasn’t enough of an artist to handle having two passions vying for my attention. As a result, I didn’t really focus on either project, leaving me artistically unfulfilled and frustrated and about to welcome a new child into our lives.

Then Baby #2 arrived. Two weeks earlier than expected. And my maternal artistic life shifted dramatically in the most beautiful and wild way. I have a daughter and a son. Two masterpieces that I am simultaneously in love with and terrified of ruining. And it is so clear that they are both meant to be in my life. As overwhelming as it is, they are two masterpieces in process that I was meant to help create. Who am I to say that I can’t or shouldn’t do the same with my other creative babies? I can’t and shouldn’t abandon them any more than I could one of my children. Yes, one might take up more time and attention than the other for a while, but the creative process ebbs and flows in deliciously unpredictable stages. There is space for it all.

My creative cup runneth over. It might seem like the parts of my life that spill through my fingers are lost forever, but water has a way of evaporating, only to return in a rain storm not far down the road. I’ll be drenched in the good stuff again, even if I can’t soak it all up or splash in the puddles to my heart’s content right now. The overflow is a blessing. And my vessel is bigger than I think it is.

Double the Fun 3



My daughter is almost two years old and our second baby could arrive any day now. People often talk about the “terrible twos” and how “no” is every toddlers favorite word. My toddler definitely likes to say “no,” but not as much as I had anticipated.

I, on the other hand, say “no” dozens of times a day.

No climbing on the ottoman to get Mommy and Daddy’s books off the shelf. No running into the road. No wandering into other peoples’ yards. No throwing your cup. No throwing your food. No eating sand. No hitting. No pinching. No tearing pages out of that book you somehow got a hold of. No climbing on the dining room table. No dropping things in the toilet. No unplugging the vacuum cleaner while I’m in the middle of using it. No unplugging anything. No playing the piano before 7:00 AM–we have downstairs neighbors. No pulling the heating grates out of the floor.

It’s exhausting. And it’s depressing how hard it was to stop writing that last paragraph. I could have gone on and on.

But–there’s always a but–I’m pretty sure I say “no” to myself just as often if not more than I do to my toddler. Maybe not out loud, but with plenty of volume.

No talking to your husband about having a little extra help in the mornings so you can write or just stay in bed awhile longer as you wait for this next baby to arrive. No working out because you’re tired and you deserve to watch TV and eat junk and feel guilty about it afterward. No taking a dance class. No singing in the shower–the neighbors will hear you. No, you will never master picking on the ukulele. No, you can’t try a new recipe, you’ll overspend the grocery budget again and will probably botch the recipe anyway. No you’re too old for gold sparkly shoes. No revisiting that story that you started writing so fearlessly and then stalled. No one takes you seriously.

The funny part is–I had a much harder time coming up with my own “no” list, even though I’m pretty sure I deny myself and refuse things incessantly. Ironically, I kept saying, “No–I don’t say ‘no’ to that” at every idea I had for things that I say “no” to, if that makes sense. The fact is, I say “no.” A lot.

It’s important to be able to say “no.” “No” can keep you safe. “No” creates boundaries. My dad always told me that “my ‘yes’ means nothing until I learn to say ‘no.'” And I’ve always loved and struggled with that motto.

Because, the fact is, I say “yes.” A lot.

Yes, I can run a potluck. Yes, I can direct that church event. Yes, I can feed the baby lunch while I fold laundry. Yes, I can talk on the phone now instead of doing that fun craft project I’ve been putting off for weeks. Yes, running errands is the best use of my time. Yes, I will plan the menu for the week. Yes, I will volunteer for that job. Yes, I will Skype with you and make dinner at the same time.

“Yes” is empowering. It is so good to say “yes” to what life throws at us. But “yes” can also be an excuse–a way to keep us from doing the things that we are afraid to want.

So I guess the point of this word vomit isn’t all that novel–in fact, most of my posts keep coming back to this point. We need balance. We need “yes” and “no” and we need “maybe” to remind us that we have a choice and that not all decisions need to be made right now. Decisions can be even be made now and changed later.

Choice is good. Choice is aggravating. It means we are responsible. It means we have to pay attention for the things that need affirming or rejecting in our crazy mixed up lives as artist parents. No I can’t master picking on the ukulele tonight. But yes, I can practice. Corny? Yes. Did that stop me from writing it? No. Will I actually do it? Maybe.

And it just goes on and on.


Worth the Pain

Toddlers don’t always handle transition well, especially if they are asked to transition from an activity they particularly enjoy to one that they are less enthusiastic about.

We try to limit screen time, but will let our daughter watch the occasional YouTube video of a favorite animal or song or show her photos of a new baby on our Facebook pages. She is always overjoyed to get to watch a show and I love that beaming face of hers. But then there is the aftermath. Turning off the show usually results in a battle. A loud, teary, battle.

Sometimes I wonder if the moments of contented peace were worth it.

Few things light up my daughter like a snack. And then the snack runs out. Sometimes it’s okay and she will just move on to the next thing. Sometimes it results in a complete meltdown.

And then I wonder was it worth that lit up face if it ends with tears?

There are countless other things that delight my child–playing under the covers of our bed, being chased up and down the hallway, going outside to explore–and they are all so perfectly splendid while we are in the middle of the activity, but as soon as it has to end, we enter tantrum town.

And every time we cross the border into the land of screaming, weeping, and occasionally hitting, I struggle to cling to the joy that we were just sharing together moments before. And I wonder if it was worth it.

Short answer: It was.

Slightly longer answer: It doesn’t always feel like it.

Digging a little deeper: It isn’t just the toddler who reacts this way when good things come to an end.

It dawned on me that I do this same kind of thing all the time in my creative life:

Why bother maintaining a daily writing habit? It’s all going to fall apart when the new baby arrives.

Why take the time to hire a babysitter so I can finally go to that drop-in improv class? I will probably love it and then be miserable that I won’t be able to go regularly.

Writing that murder mystery party was so much fun. I have no idea when or if anyone will ever hire me to create something like that again. This stinks.

Reading over each of those items, I ask myself, was it or will it be worth the seemingly inevitable separation pains? And of course, the answer is yes. Taking the time to flex my creative muscles is and always will be worth it. But it’s incredible how easily the negativity seeps in and sabotages things. Doing these things makes me happy. It shouldn’t matter that the occasional or sometimes frustratingly long absence of some of them will sadden me. The sadness can be my friend, if I let it. It can be a reminder that this stuff matters.

Even if I can’t commit to my creative projects as much as I’d like while balancing my life as a parent, they are still important and I should do whatever I can to embrace pockets of creativity as a part of my crazy existence. If I shrug off the chances to write, to go to a class, or to teach a one-off theatre workshop somewhere–then I’m more miserable than I would be if I had seized those opportunities and then had to lay them to rest for a bit. Good things end and make way for more good things.

I’m a grown woman and it’s not acceptable for me to throw tantrums when something splendid fades into the past tense. Unlike a toddler, I have foresight. I have experience. I know that more splendid somethings will come. I just have to be open to them and seize them when they do. I may even have to go digging for them like buried treasure. Sure, I’ll have to miss some opportunities too. But not all of them. No matter what, no matter how sad I might feel when a creative project is over, I can remind myself that this is not the end. Playtime will always come back.


Return of the Writer

November started unexpectedly. On the first of the month, a friend posted on Facebook that she was participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). She wondered if any of her friends were planning to do it too. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a complete draft of a novel (at least 50,000 words) in the month of November. It’s crazy. And thousands of people participate every year.

I wanted to join them. Without any forethought whatsoever, I closed my Facebook tab and signed up for a NaNoWriMo account. Suddenly, November looked very different. I was committed to writing the novel that had been bouncing around my head for over a year.

Now, remember back to my good old days of the Artist’s Way program? One of the most important tenants of that course is to set gentle, manageable goals. My lifestyle didn’t include a habit of daily writing at that point, so jumping from essentially zero words a day to writing 50,000 words in 30 days was too much. Besides, November happened to include two other creative projects that I couldn’t neglect: editing a script for a school production and preparing to direct our church’s Christmas pageant. I knew that if I tried to “win” NaNoWriMo, I would crash, burn, and ultimately lose.

I decided I could manage at least 500 words a day. And friends, that’s exactly what I did. I am pleased to say that even with a long Thanksgiving vacation and getting a jump start on Christmas shopping so we’d have things ready for our international family, I ended November with 21,616 words written on my novel.

Since November, I have continued writing at least 500 words every day (interrupted only by a brief battle with a stomach virus) and, I confess, I may or may not get to working on the novel today because I am committed to finishing this blog entry. But the point is that I successfully established a daily writing habit. One that stuck. One that I am truly excited about. I am committed to writing a novel for the first time since I was twelve. Like magic, I feel like a writer again.

I’ve been kind of stupid actually. What defines a writer is writing. That’s really it. Somehow I managed to discount the poetry challenge I did in 2010-2011. Apparently writing a poem a day for a year didn’t qualify me as a writer. And I guess writing a blog hasn’t counted either. It took spontaneously taking on NaNoWriMo for me to wake up to the fact that I never stopped being a writer. I just stopped believing I was one.

My holiday wish for you is that you find a similar wake up call. I hope you rediscover an artist identity that you’ve had with you all this time, but have perhaps forgotten or discounted. I challenge you, even during this crazy time of year, to reclaim an artistic title you have lost.

Here are the steps that worked for me:

  • Be spontaneous. Don’t overthink. It’s one of the hardest things ever, but you can get there. Open yourself up to the opportunities that arise. Seize them.
  • Set gentle, manageable goals. Don’t set out to write 2,000 words or paint a picture a day. Start small. If it’s right, the quantity will stretch naturally. I knew exactly what I needed to do to “win” my own version of NaNoWriMo. And I won. And winning feels amazing.
  • Use tools to hold you accountable to your goals. What’s great about NaNoWriMo is that they track your word count for you and send you pep talks. Now that November is over, I’ve switched to using Pacemaker to help me track my word count and to chart my progress to my ultimate goal: having a final rough draft by the time Baby #2 arrives in early spring. It also helped me tremendously to have an online writer’s support group of old and new friends who were also doing NaNoWriMo. We started a Google Doc, wrote daily reflections, and helped each other out through the month. Several of us plan to keep the support group going.
  • Focus on quantity over quality. Let go of “good” art. Just make it. I am fully aware that this novel I’m working on is very rough first draft. It was paramount that I let my 500 words a day be messy. I know that I will have to edit the heck out of them down the road. That’s healthy! For once I will actually have something substantial enough to edit. How exciting is that?

So much easier said than done, I know, but I hope this “huzzah” post can inspire you to rekindle a creative fire that has been too long neglected. Happy holidays one and all!

Getting Messy


Life with a toddler is messy.

She delights in emptying my drawers and wearing my clothes around the house, dropping a bra here, a tank top there. Shoes are scattered all over the place. The area around her high chair is a perpetual landmine of debris and spatters that I will probably never scrub off completely. I could probably cobble together an entire loaf of bread from the crumbs clinging to every inch of my couch. And this kid has figured out how to open closets, so her not-quite-the-right-size-yet clothes that I meticulously sorted and labeled are usually piled on the floor along with my winter gloves and a sampling of wooden blocks.

Of course, the mess extends beyond the home. I recently started taking my daughter to a Tot’s Time class. It’s two hours of educational play and such an wonderful way for her to interact with other toddlers and explore the world using all of her senses. It also provides myriad opportunities for my daughter to make a mess. She has discovered a love of painting with big oozy strokes in the same place on the paper over and over again. And of course the paint brush occasionally finds its way to her mouth. She also loves to play with the soapy water at the water table, but would rather squeeze the drippy sponges over the floor than over the tub.

I’m finding that I need to embrace the messes in my life. I need to let go of the fact that hummus will wind up in my daughter’s hair. That shouldn’t prevent me from feeding it to her. I need to embrace hummus hair. And yogurt hair. And paint on clothes. And wet or sticky floors. And dirty pants and poop in the diaper I literally changed five minutes ago. Am I seriously going to restrict my daughter to neat and tidy activities? Not only is that impossible, we’d both go mad. A kid needs to color! And play in the dirt. And yes, sometimes eat it too. 20160913_135312

I’m realizing more and more that I need to let my artistic life be messy. If I have to disrupt the family routine slightly so I can make it to an improv class once in a while, so be it. If I need to give up the nap that I desperately want (but could live without) so I can instead rework a script, then so be it. If I need to go for a drive and belt out my favorite songs instead of doing the dishes, that’s fine. So long as I really let it be fine.

I am often guilty of half-assed decision making. I’ll decide to leave the kitchen a mess and watch a movie with my husband instead, but then I ruin the experience by letting guilt about the dishes build up while I was supposed to be relaxing. I’m learning to choose, really choose, to sometimes accept the mess. If I really choose it, then I don’t wake up in the morning to a stuffed sink and curse my past self for leaving this chore unfinished. Instead, I feel satisfied knowing that I consciously chose to do something besides dishes last night and am content to do them now.

It might seem obvious, but it’s taken me a while to figure this out. And I still need a lot of practice. So here’s to choosing messes when it comes to my kiddo, to my house, and to my artistic adventures. It’s like Ms. Frizzle always said on The Magic School Bus show, “Take chances. Make mistakes. And get messy!” Words to live by.

Image Credit: http://emilyeyring.com/take-chances-make-mistakes-get-messy/


Say what?

My daughter talks. A lot. We just usually have no clue what on earth she is saying. And what’s great is that it doesn’t really matter right now. She’ll begin to say more recognizable words before we know it. For now, it’s fun trying to get her to repeat words and hearing her attempts to navigate all the different sounds. The latest word is “Shakespeare.” It sounds more like “Shaw-shue,” but hey, the fact that she’s even trying is fantastic and this is one proud theatre mama.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the way it doesn’t matter that my daughter can’t say or mispronounces most words. Or that she still sometimes points to me and says “Daddy” or points to a mirror and says “baby.” Similarly, I wonder if it could matter a little less that I’m sometimes less than clear on what’s what.

My identity as a mom and as an artist is usually fuzzy at best. How am I an artist again? I’m not out there making theatre these days. I haven’t been writing my morning pages. I haven’t performed in ages. How do I justify writing this blog if more than half the time I feel like I have no idea what on earth I’m talking about or who I am?

Then I remember. This blog is part of my art-making right now. I need to keep coming back to it. I recently revamped my meet up group and have gotten four new members in the past week. That’s a huge step forward! And the cherry on top? I am directing a school play this year and I even get to pick it! How is that not making theatre? Why am I comparing myself to other artist parents who are doing more professional or financially lucrative projects than I am? Like my toddler is with speaking, I’m just not there. For now. And while I have oh so many moments of that feeling unspeakably frustrating, it’s also okay. Really and truly okay. And it’s not settling as long as I keep moving forward and try to wrap my brain and lips around this “artist parent” identity and own it, even when the “artist” part feels a little smudgy.

Say What 1

Two Tools and an Unexpected Story (Artist’s Way Week 12)

(This post, like the Artist’s Way program, is long and totally worth it, if you feel like putting in the effort. And the mushrooms will make sense at the end ;o)

I’ve officially completed all twelve weeks of Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way program for creative recovery. It feels good. Not exhilarating. Not incredible. Just simply good. To be honest, my last official day of the program was pretty anticlimactic, but not in a disappointing way. Yes, it’s good to acknowledge the progress I’ve made over the last twelve weeks, but really what I’ve learned is a new creative lifestyle and that’s not something that ends. I’m going to keep evolving as an artist. And I’ve already committed to continuing to use the two basic tools of the Artist’s Way, tools that I would like to share with you here and encourage you to try yourself, if you’re so inclined.

Mushroom 4Artist’s Way Tool #1: Morning Pages

Get yourself a notebook. Every morning when you wake up, write three pages. What should you write about? There is no “should.” Just write anything. Morning pages are a stream of consciousness exercise when you write down whatever comes to you in the moment. It might feel a bit like a diary or journal some mornings. Other days it will feel like a to do list as you gather your thoughts about the day ahead. Some days it will be a rant about the inconsiderate thing your partner did or didn’t do or the way your child has suddenly stopped eating anything that isn’t white. Other days it will be line after line of “This is stupid. I could still be sleeping. I have nothing to write about. This is stupid.” It really doesn’t matter what you write. Whatever you wind up writing is exactly what you need that morning, whether you realize it or not. Morning pages are not pretty. They are personal, sloppy and not to be reread or shared with anyone. Everyone can do them—not just those who consider themselves writers. They are a way to clean out the cobwebs before you tackle the day. They are worth waking up an extra half hour early so you can have time to yourself. They are exhilarating, excruciating, and illuminating. And they work.

Mushroom 2Artist’s Way Tool #2: Weekly Artist Date

Every week, plan an outing that feeds you artistically. The only rules are that you have to go alone and that it has to be fun. Artist dates are about making time just for you and even though you love your friends and kids, it’s not really a date with your artist self if you have to consider what other people want to do or how recently they’ve visited the restroom. The point is to make play time for your artistic wellbeing and to attend to your personal artistic needs and whims. Artist dates can be simple or extravagant. Here are a few that I’ve tried or hope to try soon:

  • Go for a walk.
  • Swing on the swings at a local playground.
  • Go for a long drive with the windows rolled down.
  • Go for a long drive and blast your favorite music and sing as loud as you want.
  • Go to a dollar store and browse. Buy your artist a present, like stickers or a bird feeder.
  • Go to a craft store and browse. Fabric and yarn are two things my artist loves to look at and touch.
  • Take yourself to a concert.
  • Go to a coffee shop and color while sipping your favorite beverage.
  • Visit your closest urban center and soak up the hubbub. Maybe try some new to you ethnic food.
  • Light some candles and take a bubble bath.
  • Dress up and go to a fast food place for a treat and a chance to people watch or doodle or both.

The options are limitless. The hardest part is making the time for your date and honoring it every single week. And believing that you deserve it. You do.

Those are the essentials. While I wholeheartedly recommend that you try the Artist’s Way course in its entirety someday, just experimenting with these two tools is a great start.

Mushroom 5

An Anecdote and a Story

Before I return to writing posts that are only indirectly connected to the Artist’s Way, I wanted to share one more anecdote with you.

On my final day of the Artist’s Way course, I had a bad morning.

It was our last day of vacation in the Adirondacks and my daughter had woken up before I had a chance to write my morning pages. It was too early to take her up to the main cabin where her aunts and uncles were still sleeping, so I wandered over to the neighbor’s house. They were away and had offered their beautiful screened-in porch for our use. I thought it would be a nice change of scenery for my toddler. But as soon as I got there, I realized how many breakable things were there. So instead of writing my morning pages or at least getting to quickly check my email and Facebook using the neighbor’s Wi-Fi, I spent a frustrating hour and a half saying, “No” and plucking fragile coasters and plants and bottles out of my daughter’s eager fingers.

Eventually, we’d both had it. I stomped back to our cabin, found my husband was awake and grouchily asked him to take over baby duty so I could finally write. He was more than willing, but the baby kept being grumpy and disruptive, so my morning pages were feeling fruitless and I was increasingly pissed off. So I raged in my morning pages about how infuriating it was not to have a tranquil writing experience on my last day of the Artist’s Way course in this beautiful place and how I might as well just write nonsense since I could barely concentrate through my frustration. So I wrote nonsense. And that nonsense turned into a story:

Once upon a time there was a painter. And she hated everything she painted.

Perfectionism pinched all of the play from her work. She could never get her colors just right. Her compositions were always a bit askew. And no matter how hard she tried, the proportions were always off. Day after day, she’d paint and rage. Her friends would stop by and compliment her work and she’d insist that it was rubbish and they’d sheepishly leave and she’d keep painting and keep hating it and her paintings would get messier and messier as the day went on until she was overloading her brushes and her paint strokes ran like tears down the canvas. Then she’d throw herself in bed and do it all over again the next day.

Until the morning she woke up trapped inside one of her paintings.

She rubbed her eyes with an effort, her elbows unaccustomed to the two-dimensionality of canvas. At first she didn’t recognize that she was stuck in one of her own paintings. It was a painting of a forest floor with fingers of light filtering through the unseen leaves and resting on a cluster of toadstools and mushrooms. She never painted anything that simple and fanciful anymore. It must have been one of her earlier disasters, she thought to herself.

Ah. Now she remembered. She had been in her fairy tale phase then. This painting was inspired by Alice in Wonderland and the mushrooms that Alice ate to grow larger and smaller. What a stupid subject for a painting and what a horrible place to be stuck. The painter was starting to feel claustrophobic in this flat world of useless flora. How did one escape a painting? Then an idea tickled at her like whiskers. The mushrooms. Alice ate them to escape sticky situations in the story. Maybe one of these horrid creations could transport her back to reality and three dimensions. What did she have to lose? So she bent down, grimaced, and nibbled the edge of a red-capped mushroom, vaguely thinking that if this didn’t work, she’d never make it to her dentist appointment on time.

Apparently, thinking about being late while in an Alice in Wonderland-inspired painting was a bad idea. Her nibble of mushroom did successfully transport the painter back to the real world, but as she blinked and stretched, she realized that she was far too short. Not only short, but white and fluffy. And craving carrots…

 After a few terrifying incidents involving traffic and a red-tailed hawk, the painter found that she had hopped to the edge of a circus tent. While she was admiring the prowess of the lion tamer, she suddenly found herself snatched up by the ears. She was nose to nose with the circus magician. Before she knew it, she was a part of the circus magic act, being stuffed into and pulled out of a musty top hat. At first it was quite fun. She had always loved magic shows as a child and she enjoyed the applause. But after a while, she grew bored. Magic wasn’t so fun when you knew they were just tricks. Besides the repetition was excruciating. So she ran away.

 After more incidents with traffic and an under-exercised and over-excited border collie, she found herself stuck in some bird netting laid across a small patch of strawberries in a suburban garden. The painter squeaked in alarm as a curious cat came stalking into view. Lucky for her, a little girl came out onto the front porch at that moment, spotted the painter, scooped her up in her arms and adopted her with all of her heart.

They were inseparable. The painter slept in a rather spacious hutch right outside the little girl’s bedroom. She had plenty to eat and drink and was allowed to hop freely around the house, provided the doors and windows were closed. They had tea parties together, played dress ups and doctor, snuggled during thunder storms, and whispered secrets to each other without saying a word.

One day, the little girl was painting on a big pad of paper propped up on an easel in her room. It seemed a lifetime since the painter had picked up a brush. The little girl had no sense of color combinations, composition or proportions, but her creations were certainly expressive. The painter felt a twinge of jealousy. As she turned to distract herself with the bedside lamp cord, the little girl paused in painting her landscape of endless grass and sky and noticed the satisfying fluffiness of the painter’s white tail. She had an idea.

 The little girl scooped up the painter and gently dipped her tail in a smear of yellow paint. Then she studied her landscape and moved the painter’s posterior towards the blue part of the page. The painter panicked. There was far too much paint on her tail. She knew from experience that the color would run and the little girl’s picture would be ruined. The painter struggled to get away, but the little girl held tight and squished her tail solidly against the page. Then she put the painter down and admired her work. The painter was right. The yellow would-be circle had drips oozing down the blue and into the green. The painter sighed sadly and looked up at the little girl. She was grinning. “Look,” the little girl said, “the sun is reaching down to touch the grass.”

The painter sat transfixed, twitching her nose, and vaguely aware that she was getting yellow paint on the carpet. But she didn’t care. She was a rabbit in the presence of a painter and her masterpiece. And it was perfect.

The end, for now.

Mushroom 3

Playing Photographer (Artist’s Way Week 11)

The penultimate week of The Artist’s Way program focuses on recovering a sense of autonomy. The reading talks a lot about how we define success. It’s really easy to get distracted by false heralds of success–things like money and fame. Wondering whether or not anyone else will like what we make can hinder us from simply enjoying the creative process. From just making art because we love it.

Sure, we have to pay the bills, but if that’s the only thing we pour our creativity into, then it’s going to get tired and so will we. We need to make time to play, to mess up and around, to drastically reduce the stakes from whether people will like or buy what we make down to whether or not we had fun making it. 20160707_124347

So these days I’ve been playing with a relatively new, low stakes creative outlet: collecting pictures. I don’t consider myself a photographer of any caliber–all of my photos are taken on my trusty phone–but thanks to this blog and the Artist Way process, I’ve found myself more inclined to take photos and to pay more attention to composition. We went on a small vacation recently and as we drove through endless farmland, I found myself eagerly scanning the horizon for particularly picturesque scenes. I enjoyed the challenge of snapping photos in a moving vehicle, oftentimes through a closed window. As a result, I paid more attention to where we were going than I usually do and it made the journey more meaningful.

In addition to taking pictures, I’ve really started paying attention to how much I enjoy including images in all of my creative processes. There’s a reason why Pinterest and Instagram are so successful–people eat up images. They dress things up, they add color, texture, and life to words and ideas. They can shift your perspective or reflect something you’ve always felt to be true, but perhaps couldn’t put into words. I’m not exactly an artist, but I’ve started doodling out story ideas and details instead of just writing them down. I’ve rediscovered a delight in making collages and collecting pictures from magazines. So many images are digital these days and it’s deeply satisfying to have hard copies. And yes, I also dapple in the adult coloring book trend.


I’m in a stage in my life where I need to just play with art. Playing with pictures is one fun way to do that. And one of the best parts is that it’s something I can share with my daughter. Whether I’m snapping photos of her latest antics or coloring with her (while trying to keep her from eating the crayons) or pointing out the details in her picture books, together we can saturate ourselves in colorful, creative images and let our imaginations run wild.