About a month ago, I attached an end date to what was otherwise a very loose plan. I created a fabulous planner that contained every action that needed to be taken, every call that needed to be made, every item that needed to be purchased and every backup plan that may need to be called upon along the road to this launch day.
At this point I’d like to point out that this particular end date has not yet arrived, and also that this little piece of writing is not part of that well made plan.
My meticulous plan consisted of many sub-deadlines on the way to the big day. A series of little targets, which would ensure my arrow was properly aligned all the way to the big bullseye. A few of these I hit smack in the centre. What a winner, what a professional, what an effective human being. Obviously, some of these targets I missed by a gaping margin…actually yesterday.
At the end of what I’d imagined should have been an ecstatic week of flowing creativity, I found myself a fair way short of where I’d wanted to be, and feeling like a big old dud. This deadline was measured by paintings completed, so for an artist, just I little bit important. To be honest I’d been feeling pretty dud-like all week. Tired, heavy, encumbered, not sick but bleh (pronounced with a scowl and the tongue hanging out). I’d been painting like a bat out of hell and that part was going beautifully. I was productive and flowing while I had a brush in my hand but most other minutes of the day were flat and caveworthy (another story for another day).
And yet here I am, Monday morning. I’m not stressed, and what’s new and unusual is that I’m not beating myself over the head with my unfinished canvases or stabbing myself in the ear with the pointy end of the paint brush. I’m not feeling hopeless, or useless, or stupid. I don’t feel like a cheeseburger, or watching daytime tv. I don’t feel at all like quitting, despite the steep road in front of me. All this feels very unusual, and very powerful too. I feel like getting on with it. I feel like putting my head down and keeping on keeping on. I feel like looking at the calendar and deciding on a realistic timeframe in which to do what needs to be done.
So I didn’t get the work done this week, but it may not have been my lack of productivity, lack of commitment, tendency for distraction, inability to say no to other things, my family that insists on eating dinner every single damned night, or suppliers that deliver things a long time after they’re promised. Maybe the cause was that the deadline was defective right from the outset. Maybe meeting my expectations would have required a lesser quality of work. Worth it for a tick on my planner? No way. Fulfilling and rewarding? Nup. Maybe I just didn’t allow enough time in my perfect plan. Of the many ways there are of looking at it, this is the perspective I’m choosing. It’s kinder, and it lets my mindset remain productive, not destructive. There is no one true perspective. Any perspective becomes your truth if you believe it, buy in. So I’m choosing the self-lovin’ one. Why wouldn’t I? (except I usually don’t)
So today, without judgement, I work. I mother. I wife. I may even friend. I paint, and exercise, and meditate, and eat, and do the school run, and play with the dog, and endure the swimming lessons, and make dinner. Not in that order. I get on with doing all that I need to do. And today I do it with my inner heroine in charge. Onwards and upwards me…and sidewards, and upside downwards. Perspective
ps. Watch this space when I am actually finished. It’s going to be gorgeous.
Habits are so hot right now aren’t they. Experts everywhere are talking about habits. How to break them, how to make them, wellness habits, business habits, parenting habits, habits to make you rich, and habits to help you sleep. Luckily for you, I’m rubbish at habits. Not as rubbish as I used to be, but still rubbish. Being bad at habits and therefore routine, you might assume that I’m all fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, spontaneous, floating along wherever the breeze may blow. I’m not that either, at all. I suppose I’m somewhere in the middle, like most people, probably like you. I’d like to be better though, and I think life could run more smoothly, just like the podcasts tell me, with a few tweaks here and there. I’m not going to give you any advice, but here’s the tip of the iceberg of changes I’d like to make. I’d love you to add your three in the comments below.
One to Break
Staying up late for no good reason. There are some good reasons to stay up late, but not many and they’re not at my house. Staying up late has definitely become a habit. When I go to bed late, I wake up late, I wake up tired, and I can’t be bothered starting the day in the way I’d like to - in a way that sets me up well for the rest of the day. Days are precious and like everyone else, I have a lot going on in life. Now more than ever I need to give myself the best chance of having a decent day, and it seems to start the night before. When I’m home, I’m going to bed by 10pm.
One to Make
Clean my brushes completely, immediately. I’m good at working right up until the last second and sticking my brushes in a glass of water when the clock strikes “school pickup”. What I’m terrible at is coming back to them in a timely fashion and finishing the clean up job. I’m ashamed to say that my beautiful, treasured, expensive paint brushes can sometimes stay in that glass of water for a couple of days. Bad artist, bad artist!! I must make a new habit of cleaning up completely, immediately. I am not silly enough to think I can achieve this in any other room of the house, but I’m going to do it in the studio. If I’m late for school pickup, you’ll know why.
One to Keep
Drawing every day. Every day. I started doing this a few years ago, and at first I was a little shaky. Sometimes I didn’t feel like drawing and sometimes I didn't know what to draw. Sometimes I didn’t have my proper drawing tools, the right sketchbook and my good pencil or pen. So sometimes I didn’t do it. I didn’t feel like I was “good enough” at it. But guess what? There’s no minimum standard required. Now drawing in the sand is enough, so is half a crayon on the back of an envelope. Daily drawing makes you an opportunist, a maverick, an adventurer. Now that I draw every day, I don’t get attached to the outcome and am less critical not just of my drawing but of everything.
I’d love to know what has worked for you, be it health, wealth, work, parenting, or just the general management of your crazy life. Add your breaker, maker and keeper in the comments below.
This time last year, I created this website!! Gosh I tussled with whether or not it was the right time, was I ready, does it align with my heart's true desires, and what about my root chakra?! Oh the procrastination, the excuses, the self talk. Anyway, in a moment of clarity or self-butt-kicking, I made it.
The first blog post I shared here was a personal Taking Stock post inspired, no copied from Pip Lincolne's Meet me at Mike's blog.
It's been a year now, so to celebrate the fact that I made this thing in the first place, and also the fact that I haven't yet pulled it down mid artistic perfectionism rage, I thought I'd do it again. It's part milestone-marking, part emotional therapy. You may want to go back and read the last one if you are interested in studying the progress/regress of my mental space.
I'd love to read your version of taking stock. Choose five categories and add yours in the comments.
Here it is, one year on.
Making : The jackpot green smoothie recipe that my vegophobe child loves. Lots of spinach, lots of blueberries, a little spirulina, a dessert spoon of RAW protein powder, a sprinkle of bee pollen, a little maple syrup, and enough water to blend to favourite consistency. She can't get enough of it.
Drinking : Liquorice tea. The pack says don't consume in excessive amounts. I don't know how much that is, but I think I'm giving it a nudge.
Reading: John Olsen, an artists life by Darleen Bungey. Also a Kurt Vonnergut number for my book club, but that one isn't going so well for me.
Wanting: Spring, that is all.
Looking: Westernport Bay. I can see a lot of it from my kitchen and lounge and if I counted the minutes I spend looking out there, I'd arrest myself for crimes against productivity. But I'm not going to count them.
Playing: Lego. Even when the kids aren't around. I'm hoping my fingers stay in good shape so that I can spend my geriatric years doing Lego.
Deciding: Whether to go to the footy on Friday night or not.
Wishing: That the political life attracted a higher calibre of person.
Enjoying: Living just footsteps from the beach. Laziness + inspiration.
Waiting: For a parcel or three in the mail. Weekend binge.
Liking: Celery. Obviously with peanut butter because they are just meant for each other.
Wondering: What I'll do next.
Loving: The salty seaweed smell every time I arrive home.
Pondering: Did my husband actually say the words this morning "When can we go shopping?" Um....WHAT?!
Considering: A MacBook Pro
Watching: Anything that involves Waleed Ali speaking his mind. Not The Batchelor.
Hoping: I can finish this before school assembly.
Marvelling: At someone's ability to keep their head under tantrum-worthy conditions, and come out sailing.
Needing: Less approval these days.
Smelling: Daffodils and jonquils that my gorgeous husband picked and brought home from his weekend camp. Awww.
Wearing: Things that are not as dirty as the other things.
Following: Bridget Beth Collins, also known as Flora.Forager on Instagram. My gosh she spends her days well.
Noticing: The shifting seasons, both outside and inside me.
Knowing: That I’m the luckiest person I know. Still.
Thinking: That this probably shouldn't take as long to complete as it is. But that's taking stock isn't it. You're meant to slow down, reflect, ponder and wonder and slowly move on will a new clearer perspective of where you are.
Feeling: I little bit proud. Me a few years ago would not even have considered holding a private studio sale. Too scary.
Admiring: My daughters.
Sorting: Nothing. Nothing last year, still nothing this year.
Buying: As little as possible, especially in the fluffy-toy-cat-with-colourful-tail genre, despite my youngest's admirable campaign. Obviously the weekend splurge doesn't count.
Getting: My lunch, which looks much more like breakfast.
Bookmarking: Brain Pickings on Facebook! I can't get enough of Maria Popovas interestingness and neither it seems, can 3.6 million others. I might be a late comer to this party....
Disliking: My dog losing every single ball down the same hole in the deck. Under the house there is a bonanza of colourful balls waiting to be discovered by a critter smaller than him. Thought kelpies were smart...?
Opening: My eyes a little earlier, a little easier thanks to the darling sun and her early rising ways. It is inhumane to require people to wake up in the dark.
Coveting: A MacBook Pro
Helping: My dog to learn that balls dropped down holes do not come back.
Hearing: Clare Bowditch's sweet encouragement in "The Winter I Chose Happiness". She speaks in a language I really understand.
Learning: That I can go my own way, and that there is no other.
Long, long ago in a life I can hardly remember, I worked in the fashion industry. Designer, Fashion Buyer and Visual Merchandiser were all badges I once proudly wore. When someone asked me what I did, I was very happy be able to tell them something that seemed cool, creative and interesting. (Actually back in those days, no one knew what a Visual Merchandiser was.) I was bored, frustrated and unstimulated in these jobs, but I felt compensated by the “cool” factor. I thought that creative sounding careers were just that – careers that sound creative. I didn’t know anyone who was actually satisfied in their creative career. I was creatively numb, but I felt safe and accepted. My concept for the spring store layout and window display was approved by my boss before it was rolled out to 100 stores. My men’s knitwear range was discussed and tweaked and fine tuned by a team of people who knew their stuff before 1000s of units were shipped from faraway lands and distributed around the country. I confidently showed the product of my labour, it fit the brief, and everyone smiled. I’m not saying that the rag trade is all easy, but at that time for me, I was in a comfort zone with padded walls. I couldn’t lose.
These days I’ve swapped the safety, security and straight-jacket of those jobs, for the Tarzan swing of independent art (let’s be real – I swapped it for full-time motherhood and I wedge art into the spaces). I don’t have a senior colleague to run things past before I make a big move, there is no team to collaborate with on the next collection, no manual to consult over how things should be done.
There are a million different ways to work as an artist. My way right now is as a one-girl-band. I leap from assured self-confidence, sometimes swinging all the way across to trembling fear, often swaying somewhere in the middle known as vulnerability.
We hear from all corners lately that vulnerability is powerful, important, and the key to human connection. Brene Brown’s Ted Talk articulates this beautifully and if you haven’t heard it I highly recommend you do. My paintings are not finished until I am supremely happy with them, and once I’ve reach that point it I don’t really mind what anyone else’s reaction to them is because I’ve already spent hours and hours listening to my own inner critic and cheer squad. I’ve already heard it all, good and bad. That process is my work, and I love it.
One of my favourite quotes is from American artist Georgia O’Keefe who said in regards to her work:
“I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free”.
I really relate to this now, but years ago....not so much.
I used to be very reluctant to show my work to anyone in case they didn’t like it. I knew they wouldn’t say so, but I’d “just know” they didn’t like it and that would be awful. I was so reluctant that I would hide pieces when people came over. If no one thought badly of my work then there was still a chance that I was a talented artist with a bright future right? I know it sounds ridiculous now, and I a teeny bit embarrassed writing it here (vulnerability right?). In reality, my efforts to avoid certain judgement, shame, disappointment and embarrassment, were also ensuring I never experienced the joy, satisfaction, sense of accomplishment, and deep pleasure of embracing the truth of who I am and what I do. In avoiding the downsides, I was ripping myself off of the upsides and not just in my art, but in everything. The risk of showing who I truly was, was so great to me then, because if I failed at being me, then what else was there?
Clearly, the risk of not showing up as myself was so much greater.
I don’t expect everyone to rave about my work, nor to even mildly like it. When I exhibit new paintings, I’ve already had the tussle for hours on end in creating it, and enjoyed every minute of the tussle because it’s me. The idea was me, the painting is me, the imperfections are me. It’s my expression of who I was and what I felt during those hours. Each time I exhibit a painting, or snap a page of my sketchbook for Instagram, or spill my guts in a blog I'm reminded that now I get to be me. I’m not a fashion puppet anymore (no offense). There a little celebration going on inside every time, and it has nothing to do with how many “likes” I got. This is me being completely me, and the more me I am, the better I feel, the better I paint, the better I write, parent, connect, love. I feel vulnerable for sure, and occasionally it’s excruciating but it doesn't stop me from allowing people to see me, not anymore.
The fact is, we all spend our lives swinging on the rope of vulnerability. Being open to possibility means open to every possibility and if you are not willing to be vulnerable to the feelings you don’t want (fear, shame, embarrassment, disappointment) then you also won’t be there for the elation, excitement, the bliss. The pendulum (and the Tarzan swing) swings both left and right, or not at all.
I once lamented that I 'd never be able to paint or draw like the artists I admired. But I've realised that they also can't paint or draw like me. That's the whole point! We don't expect to be "as good as" someone else, just as good as we can be every time we apply ourselves to the practise.
I don’t expect to ever make a painting that will be loved and celebrated by all; in fact I don’t think anyone ever has.
Last week I wrote about the sweet and sometimes spiky meandering path I’ve walked over the past decade or so to arrive at the little clearing I’m at now – the clearing where the big scary monster-trees have all taken three steps back, and settled into their armchairs where they smile, patiently watching the slow-bubbling potential before them, and ready to assist. It’s quite Lord of the Rings huh. If you haven’t read last week’s instalment, then maybe go read that first HERE. What I was planning to write last week quickly turned into something else, so I’m back today to try again.
Yoga has become so much a part of me now that it’s less a practice I “do”, and more a skin I live in. And if I’m likening it to skin, then I admit that occasionally it’s clear and peachy smooth like a newborn babe (but not my eczema-ish babes), but mostly my “yoga skin” is a little blemished and scarred. Imperfect. My asana practice (physical poses) will always be important because I enjoy feeling strong and straight and light, but my yoga these days is more off the mat than on.
It’s some of the lesser taught aspects of yoga that now as an artist, I practise constantly. You may have heard the Yamas and Niyamas mentioned in your yoga class, but probably not. They are just as important to yoga as Downward Dog or Warrior pose; actually I think they are more important. If you are after a full explanation of the Yamas and Niyamas then you'll find it HERE. In short, they are guiding principles for how we may live our lives in a way that is optimal for mind, body and spirit. In loose terms the yamas and niyamas discuss things such as non-stealing, non-violence, contentment, and perseverance. Common sense, but not very common.
These days, I apply Ahimsa (non-violence) to my inner critic. An inner verbal bashing is not helpful to my work today, and it won’t be tomorrow either. Harsh words have an energy that hangs around, a kind of stink. Ahimsa doesn’t suppress violence, be it in words or actions, it extends kindness and love. And my once brutal inner critic can’t get a word in.
I apply Saucha (Purity/Cleanliness) to myself and my space. To tidy up my studio from time to time and a quick shower each morning is just basic maintenance right, but Saucha is not quite so “do a job-tick a box” as that. I do de-clutter the studio at least weekly, but for me Saucha is more internal. It’s clearing out the cobwebs in my head as well as the studio ceiling. It’s putting good, clean, pure things into my body (most of the time), because I know that’s how good things flow out, for me. It’s indoor plants. Its drinking enough water to make up for the coffee and putting my pencil sharpenings in the bin.
And then there’s Tapas. Not the small morsels of chorizo-spiked deliciousness. Tapas is the generating of heat, the concentrated practise, the perseverance. In other words, it’s getting the damned work done. Just getting on with it. No excuses, no whinging, just getting on with it. Tapas is rolling out your mat and getting started even though you don’t really feel like it and you probably haven’t got time. Tapas is picking up the pencil/brush/camera, whether inspiration has rained upon you today or not. Tapas is the opposite of procrastination.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as the things yoga has taught me that make me a better artist. Not better than another artist, just a better artist than I otherwise may be. But honestly, I don’t think I’d be doing this at all, this that I’ve always dreamed of. Thanks yoga. You’re awesome.
This is not about colouring in mandalas, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
It’s about how a disheartened creative becomes a yogi, in order to learn how to be an artist.
For yogis and artists, this sentence makes complete sense; in a “duh” stating the obvious kind of way. To everyone else, the kook-hippy-tosser-new-agey-self-help-book sirens are blaring. Don’t worry, it’s only me.
Let me save you from the pain and boredom involved in having to read my entire life story, but its sufficient to say that the second sentence pretty much covers the last 10-15 years for me. I didn’t know it at the time of course but hindsight is sharp and sometimes pointy.
Seven years ago, around the time I was becoming a yoga teacher, I desperately wanted to be an artist, but I would never have admitted it. The person that I was at that time was not at all ready to personally commit, or to stand up in front of the universe and call myself an artist. Why? Because I still believed (at 30ish and since teenhood) that the universe would laugh at me, in fact I thought it was already pointing and laughing each time I popped my head outside of the proverbial square. I was in a creative career, but it was the type that had very high barbed wire walls fixed around my creativity. (No, I was not the seamstress at Pentridge). Having already practised yoga for many years, I did have an inkling that the universe probably wasn't the complete tossbag that I was perceiving, but also that it would take a lot of learning and unlearning on my part if I was ever to understand this possibility.
A couple of months in to my teacher training, our meditation teacher asked us to get into pairs and sit cross legged, face to face, knee touchingly close. Maintaining eye contact, one person asks “Who are you really?” and their pair answers, continuing talking until there is nothing left to say. Maintaining eye contact!!! Do not try this at home. All seemed ok while I was talking, but once I stopped, read my partners face, and realised what I’d just spewed out about my family, about my childhood, about my fears, about my insecurities. I actually wanted to vomit. Of course it was a complete set up by the teacher to illustrate to us broken mirror we see ourselves in, how harshly we judge, how closed our minds, and how tightly we hold onto our own bullshit. Keep in mind this is a room full of peacelovin’, herbal tea drinkin’, Tibetan sock wearin’, hug squeezin’ future yoga teachers. (If you were one of the people in the room that day, please don’t be offended by my stereotyping. You get my drift though right?)
I flipped a switch that day. I was appalled at what had come out of my mouth when asked who I really was. I'm not the shy child or the grasping-for-acceptance teen. I have been, but I’m not. I switched off apprehensive and switch on self-assured. I switched off shy and switched on brave. There are still a few switches I’d like to flip and I'm working on those (with yoga and meditation of course).
Now that the universe and I are working more closely, creativity flows much more freely. Now that I’ve fixed my broken mirror, I can see what I’m making and appreciate where it sits along the windy track of my career and indeed, life. I don’t love and adore everything that flows from my pencil or paint brush (or ink pen, oh la la) but I now know that it’s not necessary to love and adore everything. What’s important is that I keep creating, developing and learning and stuffing up, and celebrating and if you do yoga or if you meditate, you know exactly what I mean.