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.

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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.

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Tuning Out (Artist’s Way Week 10)

Only two more weeks to left in The Artist’s Way. Wild! This week focused on recovering a sense of self-protection; defining the bad habits we have that get in the way of our creativity and admitting why we hold onto those habits when we’d be so much happier if we let them go. I didn’t have to dig very deep to identify my current destructive habit.

Hi, my name is Justine and I’m addicted to Netflix.

You might laugh, but I actually just wrote that sentence, got uncomfortable, and proceeded to open a new tab to continue binge-watching Nashville instead of writing this post. It’s ridiculous. And it’s actually a problem.

It kills me when I think of how much more mastery I could have playing my ukulele or how much of a story I could have written or how much more I could have played with my little girl by now if I didn’t spend hours of my time in front of my laptop, streaming the product of someone else’s creativity.

You’d think I would have learned from my media deprivation exercise in Week 4. But big problems don’t disappear overnight or even over the course of a week. Besides, doing the media deprivation was a task from The Artist’s Way book. I’ve always been an A student and doing homework is something I’ve always done well. I’m programmed to do things that are assigned to me. And I often enjoy that structure of being told what to do. But I struggle to motivate myself. If no outside force tells me I should do something, I’m geared up with all sorts of excuses to talk myself out of breaking unhealthy habits.

There’s a reason why The Artist’s Way is modeled on a 12-step program. Creative blocks are often addictions–things that we cling to so that we can stay stuck, because we know how to be stuck and the unfamiliarity of open creative channels is terrifying.

It feels stupid to be writing this because, to be honest, I still don’t have a whole lot of resolve to change my Netflix-binging ways too much. I am about to go on two weeks of TV-free vacation. Maybe something will click then. But for now, I’m putting it out there. I’m admitting that it’s a problem and one that I will probably be dealing with for some time. I like watching Netflix. It’s calming. It’s easy. It allows me to stay stuck in this strangely seductive pattern, this illusion of not having time to do things that I’d really rather be doing and that would be better for me. I do have time. It might not be ideal amounts or types of time, but I have it. I might tell myself that my daughter takes up all of my free time, but it’s not true. I waste plenty of it–just me and my screens.

But being a full-time mom, it’s so easy to convince myself that I’ve earned the respite that watching TV shows and movies provides. And there’s nothing wrong with television in moderation. It is a fantastic art form in its own right and watching TV can be a great break. But maybe someday, I’ll truly realize that the real respite–what I really deserve–is time to tune into my creativity, instead of tuning out.

Cheer vs. Fear (Artist’s Way Week 9)

 

20160618_152707When my daughter discovers how to do something new, I applaud her. When she first rolled over. When she walked for the first time. When she makes the “ma-ma-ma-ma” sound anywhere in my vicinity. I praise her with actual applause, with “Good job!” and “Yay!” and with hugs and kisses. Last week, when she successfully climbed up on the couch without assistance, I cheered. On the outside at least.

On the inside, I was freaking out a little. Oh no. This new ability to climb on the furniture means more opportunities to fall. What if she gets too close to the edge? What if she starts climbing the bookshelves? What if can’t keep my eyes glued on her every second and she falls and hurts herself on my watch? One accomplishment. Dozens of fears.

The same thing happens when I try a new creative outlet. I ask for a ukulele for Christmas and actually get one. Yay! But now I actually have to learn how to play. What if it’s too hard? What if I don’t really have time to play it? What if I can never strum and sing at the same time? What if I never become Ingrid Michaelson?

I go to the craft store and buy some new yarn. Yay! It’s so soft and pretty and would make a beautiful hat. But I don’t know how to make a hat. I’ve never followed a pattern before. What if I can’t figure it out? I don’t even hold my knitting needles properly and knit so slowly. What if I wind up with a tangled mess? Better stick to knitting straight stitched scarves. That’s what I know and I’m okay at it, so I’ll just keep only being able to knit one kind of thing.

The problem is that I give much more airtime to the fear than I do the excitement. I don’t do that with my daughter. At least, I try not to. Since last week, she has continued to climb on the couch and has added a few choice arm chairs to her climbing repertoire. And I do my best to cheer her on first and caution her to be careful second.

What if I did that with my creative endeavors? What if I tried letting my cheers outweigh the fears? Campy? Perhaps. But it seems to help my daughter continue to learn new things, so why couldn’t it work on me?

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about our inner artist being a child. If that’s true, then it makes so much sense that taking care of our artistic lives so perfectly parallels raising our kids. We’ve got children running amok in our homes and a creative inner-child begging to join in the fun. We’ve got creative projects that we’ve abandoned or never even started. Each one is a newborn.

We don’t expect newborns to talk or crawl right away. If they did, we would totally freak out. But we load ourselves down with expectations that are just as outrageous. We’re not okay with being beginners. Or perhaps are and we find the “beginner” label so safe that we refuse to try advancing to a new level.The point is, we need to have some compassion for our fledgling forays into creativity. That’s what Week 9 was about: being gentle with our inner artist child.

So that’s what I did. I never learned how to crochet in elementary school even though it was part of the art curriculum. I don’t know how I got away with it, but I managed to never learn. It was too hard. I felt too clumsy trying to do it. Instead, I invented “knot crocheting,” which was taking a piece of yarn and tying knots on top of knots until you got a chain of yarn knots. I thought it was cool and it seemed to produce the same effect as a chain stitch and was far easier, so I thought I had it made. Until the teacher told me I wasn’t allowed to “knot crochet” anymore because it was really “not crocheting” and I was wasting yarn.

This week, a dear friend came to visit who happens to know how to crochet. I feel totally safe with her and if anyone was going to be able to teach me it would be her. So I asked if she would teach me. Not only did she say yes, but she also brought me my very own crochet hook and a new ball of yarn. We didn’t try it until the last night she was here, but eventually we sat down and she walked me through the steps.

It was hard. I felt clumsy. I had trouble keeping the tension in the yarn just right. But I kept going. I finally crocheted. The result was a lumpy, holey creation. And I all I can say is, YAY!

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Failing in Action (Artist’s Way Week 8)

Creative people are dramatic, and we use negative drama to scare ourselves out of our creativity with this notion of wholesale and often destructive change. Fantasizing about pursuing our art full-time, we fail to pursue it part-time–or at all. (Julia Cameron)

Raise your hand if this resonates with you. Mine practically shot up in the air Hermione Granger style when I read it. 13502589_1098146843591505_6805950920256557315_o

After a week of creative triumph complete with a dragon mask-filled pageant, I hit a slump. Maybe it was classic post-mortem depression after a creative project is finished. Maybe it was grief that I won’t get to direct this pageant for this congregation again, since we’re moving back to the US this fall. Maybe it was realizing just how much I wanted projects like that to be the norm and not the extraordinary.

It was probably a combination of all of the above. And it hit me hard.

Even though I suddenly had more flexible time on my hands now that the pageant was over, I didn’t know what to do with it besides housework and errands. And that was so depressing after the hubbub of pageant preparations.

Things spiraled from there. Even though I had a new project to look forward to (directing the school play in the new congregation we are moving to later this year), I still felt flat. Directing a play is great, but it isn’t now. And as I got more and more bogged down by not knowing what to do with my newfound time, I suddenly found myself wanting to do everything now, but didn’t have the energy to do anything at all.

I wanted my Artist Parent Theatre Lab Meet Up to be a huge success. I wanted to have a community of creative friends who I could start making some parent-friendly performance art with. I wanted to write a novel. Or even read one. I wanted to relearn to to play the piano. I wanted to learn new strumming patterns and maybe even some picking on the ukulele. I wanted to learn a second language. I wanted to be in a play again, not just direct one. I wanted this blog to be a community of give and take conversation and not just a soap box for my reflections. I wanted all of these things and with the tools I’ve gained from doing the Artist’s Way, a hopeful little voice said that I could totally start doing any or all of them if I really wanted to and if I took gentle, small steps.

20160618_152315But I had cast my fantasizing net too wide and found myself flailing and caught inside of it instead of using it to seize creative opportunities. I fell prey to negative drama. If I couldn’t have it all, I wasn’t even going to try. And instead of a week of recovering artistic strength, I got a week of half-hearted bleh.

I started listing off all of the things that I wanted to do and just as quickly generated a list of reasons why it wouldn’t work. Too expensive. Too outlandish. Too stupid to bother starting if we’re going on vacation for lots of July and we’re about to move anyway.

As soon as I would try to pull myself together and hop online and look up an American Sign Language course, I would suddenly realize that instead of genuinely looking to commit to something new and exciting, I was instead killing time daydreaming until I had to fold laundry or feed the baby or empty the dishwasher. And then I would beat myself up about it and do chores and play with my daughter and wind up watching TV after she went to bed instead of continuing a heartfelt search for something to feed my hungry artist.

Creativity requires activity, and this is not good news to most of us. It makes us responsible and we tend to hate that. You mean I have to do something in order to feel better? Yes. And most of us hate to do something when we can obsess about something instead. One of our favorite things to do–instead of our art–is to contemplate the odds. (Julia Cameron)

Ouch. Another part of The Artist’s Way that totally hit home for me.

It took a while to realize that things like getting on my computer and browsing for classes I can’t afford or daydreaming about being a part of a theatre community again aren’t actually actions. They are ghosts of action. They feel good for a little while, but if they aren’t done in earnest, but really as a way of passing time or trying to put a bandaid on my creative discontent, then I feel awful after doing them. Instead of moving forward, I tumble backwards. It’s obsession, not action.20160329_135438.jpg

So this past week was frustrating. No tremendous insights. No glittering silver linings. It was blah. It was grey. It was imbalanced. It had some perfectly pleasant moments, but I found myself constantly tripping on little uh-ohs and instead of getting back up, I allowed myself to wallow in the mud I had made by throwing artistic tantrums on the ground. I had zero resilience. I did some things, but skipped a lot of the actions that really mattered–like taking my artist out for a play date even if I didn’t feel like it.

But it’s a new week. Action is possible. Failing is an action, after all. It’s better than nothing. And all I can do is try to do better. Writing this post at a new-to-me coffee shop, slurping on a frozen hot chocolate is a start.

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Here Be Dragons (Artist’s Way Week 7)

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Don’t be scared. You are looking at my latest project: dragon masks that I made for my church’s birthday celebration. It is tradition to mark the occasion with a religious pageant depicting portions of the book of Revelation. When I decided to direct this year’s pageant, I knew that I wanted to portray the dragon from Chapter 12.

But how could I depict something that fantastical and frightening in a live performance? I didn’t want it to look silly, but also didn’t want to break the bank. And I needed seven dragon heads. Seven! Why couldn’t it be a one or even two headed dragon? I turned to Pinterest for help. I love searching through this online pin board and collecting compelling ideas. I almost always find treasure buried in the myriad images. This time, Wintercroft was my choice gem.

This company designs and sells beautiful, affordable mask templates that you can download, print, and then construct using simple, recycled materials. Eco-friendly and user-friendly? Count me in! As soon as I saw the dragon template, I completely lit up and thought, “Eureka! That’s exactly what I want.”

Now, here’s the thing. I’ve never made a mask before. Not to mention seven masks all consisting of twenty-three pieces. Each. And even with the very simple instructions, there was this nagging part of me that said I was crazy. The church has simpler versions of dragon heads in storage, it said. Why not use those? It would save a lot of time and effort. Why bother taking this on?

I hate that part of me.

It’s the part with the ever-present sneer. The part that’s always telling me that I shouldn’t try things if I might fail. And I hate how often I listen. But not this time.

Dragon 5This time, true to the focus of Week 7 of the Artist’s Way, I decided to take a risk. Not only did I make the choice to go for it, but I did it gently. I committed myself to the mask-making project and set myself the goal of making seven dragon head masks. But I also allowed myself to make lower tiered goals, in case it wound up being too much. If seven heads weren’t reasonable–and they might not have been, I had no idea what I was getting into–I could look into making three or four and coming up with simpler options for the remaining heads–such as using the pieces already available from previous pageants. If even that was too much, I could just make one “master” dragon head mask and do something else for the rest. Besides giving myself different levels of goals, I also asked for help.

And I got it.

I had cardboard donations by the bagful and cheerful teams of volunteers came to my house to cut, paste, re-paste, score, and fold cardboard for hours. They did most of the prep on the pieces, and then I put them together. Still more volunteers came and played with my daughter so I could try my hand at spray painting for the first time.

There were plenty of hiccups. Glue that didn’t stick well enough. Realizing that I had actually gotten people to fold the pieces backwards, so the first mask was technically inside out. A paint can that took five people and some online research to figure out how to get it to spray. More glue not sticking the way it was supposed to. Hot glue burns.

But there were far more successes than snags. In fact, some of the snags turned out to be Dragon 3successes. Making the masks inside-out–at least from the way the instructions said–was actually better because they were more durable that way. And I got to have some good laughs with friends  and strangers alike as we problem-solved.

We we wound up with seven exciting, fire-red dragon masks.

I’m glad I took the risk. I’m glad I took the time. I’m glad I asked for help. The dragon was a huge hit at the pageant, and my idea to have it played by three people wearing masks and holding the remaining four worked beautifully. (Photos of the masks in action later).

This risk was a gift and it will keep giving. The church now has seven cool masks to use in future years. I have new mask-building and spray-painting skills and a new level of confidence in myself. I’m already day dreaming of making more Wintercroft masks for future Halloween extravaganza’s and plays and church pageants. I love the idea of making some with my daughter one day. And I just might have the wherewithal to take another gentle, creative risk not too  far down the road, come hell, high water, or even dragons.

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Delighting in Details (Artist’s Way Week 6)

My reflection on Week 6 of the Artist’s Way is a little late, which is funny because Week 6 focuses on recovering a sense of abundance. I have not been feeling abundant in my life lately, particularly when it comes to time.

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I am directing a pageant for our church’s birthday celebration this weekend, and the past two weeks have been a blur of recruiting volunteers, collecting craft materials for props and costumes, buying supplies, returning supplies, making phone calls, returning phone calls, emailing, brainstorming, scripting, blocking, gluing, cutting, and painting. It’s a lot. And I love it. My artist self is singing with the useful and creative busy-ness a project brings.

But it’s also stressful. Not to mention the fact that my beloved parents are about to visit from the US and I would rather have a clean house than a dining room table covered in cardboard dragon heads–as satisfying as that is. And I want to spend quality time with them and not be doing last minute pageant errands the whole time they’re here. So the pressure is on to get as much done by the time they arrive as possible.AW6 2016.7

On top of that, my daughter just got over a particularly nasty bout of teething, which made her clingier, fussier, and louder than usual in the last week. Nothing like a toddler pinching your ankles when you’re trying to focus on puzzle piecing masks together.And she has wanted to be snuggled a lot more than usual, which is lovely, but also makes doing dishes and cleaning the bathroom a tad challenging.

So it’s been a lot of late nights and early mornings and I’ve often felt as though the only abundance in my life is on my “to do” list. Even this blog post is another “to do.” I was tempted to skip it or to just combine Week 6 with Week 7. And either of those options would have been fine given how full my plate is. But here I am writing a short and sweet post anyway, because, yet again, my darling teething daughter inspired me and I didn’t want to let the inspiration spiral away.

This kid is an abundance expert. Her immediate surroundings are always full to bursting with things to see, touch, and try. She notices the minutest details. When she goes to pull all of the books off the shelf (again), she often aims for the one with the ripped binding first. She delights in the tattered texture with her fingertips. When we’re at the park, she notices every leaf and twig and piece of trash on the ground. And she often tries to taste them all. She has all the time in the world and it allows her to zoom in on all that world has to offer.

So I decided to follow her lead. This post is a celebration of just a fraction of the abundance in my life. I may be short on time and money, but I have endless details at my fingertips. Sometimes zooming in on the details helps me appreciate the abundance instead of being overwhelmed by its vastness. This is a gallery of photos from our local park and garden, taken from a more toddler-like perspective. It’s my personal cornucopia, where I can feast on one delightful detail at a time. And maybe even breathe for a moment.

 

 

 

Playground for Parents (Artist’s Way Week 5)

Today, I took my daughter to a playground we had never been to before. I had seen some photos online, but when we rounded the corner and I saw it in person for the first time, the little girl inside of me–the one I mentioned back in Week 3 of the Artist’s Way–ached to play on it.

It was a castle. A giant, sprawling wooden castle chock full of nooks and crannies and bridges and towers and slides. Huge slides. When I was a little girl, this style of playground was always my favorite. They were by far the most magical places to play–a magic lessened only by my fear of splinters.

After taking my toddler on a tour of the castle (I had to carry her most of the time because she’s still pretty little and hasn’t mastered climbing yet) and pushing her on a swing for a little while, it was time to head home. She enjoyed the outing, I’m sure, but the epic nature of the playground was lost on her. As we walked away, I felt both nostalgic and a tad grumpy. I still wanted to play.

Sure, when my daughter is older, she will probably run me into the ground with her incessant desire to play imaginary games with me. She will want me to be the bad guy or another princess, or a horse or a dragon. Who knows what roles she will come up with for me? It will be magical. But it will also be play largely dictated by a tiny someone else. Not me.

That sounds incredibly selfish. But hear me out. As I walked away from that playground, I noted with a pang that it would be strange for me to go back and play without my daughter present. People might think I was there to kidnap a child or at least that I was very odd. They might think that I’m actually a teenager, taking over a space that wasn’t designed for “big kids.” The sad truth is this: I’m too old. Playgrounds are designed for children. Not for parents.

Maybe that’s only a little true. Parents love to take their kids to playgrounds. I know I do at least. It’s wonderful to have somewhere outside of the house to go and explore. It’s delightful to watch my daughter experience new spaces–learning to climb, and slide and sample wood chips is all good fun.

But let’s be honest. Playgrounds are also stressful places for parents. There are so many hazards. Maybe I’m more anxious than I’d like–okay I know I am–but come on. There are so many ways for kids to get hurt even in spaces designed for their recreation. So many high places to fall from. So many crevices to get lost or stuck in. So many other kids to bump into. And splinters. Let’s not forget splinters.

Depending on how we look at it, playgrounds can be places of fun or ripe for disaster. I know the healthy thing to do is to balance caution and a sense of letting go. But achieving that balance can be tough. And our children are blissfully unaware of how much we have to juggle just to take them out to a public park and let them play. Even if we play with them (and I hope we do) it’s not just playtime for us. We’re on the job.

Week 5 of the Artist’s Way focuses on recovering a sense of possibility. So I’m going to share a little daydream with you. Maybe it actually exists (please tell me if it does), but I left that playground today dreaming of an adult-sized version. A huge castle play space designed for imaginative grownups. A place to run around, explore, and let off steam in a truly playful way. I don’t just want to go to the gym or go for a walk. I want a playground. A legit playground that I can play on without being a creep. I guess this is why we have things like laser tag and Renaissance Faires–for those of use who still want to play pretend and dress up. But an actual castle type play space for adults? I want that to be real. I want that to be a new normal. That would be a whole new level of magic for this artist mama and her inner child.

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