“And the Dish ran away with the Zoom.”
“Mommy did you mean Spoon?”
“Oh yes, Spoon!”
What a runaway year! It’s our inclination to lick a finger and turn the page on the previous year, revealing a blank and beautiful slate to rewrite as we please.
Let’s not forget that the same holds true for 2021. If 2020 was the “what if” year, 2021 is our response. Sure, some of us have found suitable pathways, made our adjustments and squiggled our way back to safe and cozy. I want to take a moment to speak to those who haven’t, who might have been hit hard, whose “what if’s” included loss of a loved one, financial hardship or food insecurity. “What if the only thing I could count on to focus and deliver as a writer or illustrator were those fine hours that my children were away at school and now they have questions in every subject and I’m short order cooking three times a day?” Or “What if I’m holding on, but I can’t see the light of day? What if my greatest struggle is getting up in the morning, staying asleep through the night because my mind is racing?” How about “What if I don’t have the usual excitement about what’s next because I’m really terrified?”
Well, welcome to humanity, rife with feelings, vulnerabilities, and the ability to sense danger orimbalance. And with this unlikely bundle of emotions, frailties and senses, we are also creators, the protagonists in our story arc. We get to decide where in that arc we remain or progress, to identify the supports and anchors we require to pick ourselves up and give ourselves another chance, another scene.
What if you’re not in crisis? What if laughter still comes easy and you’ve rowed yourself to a semblance of safety or the odds worked in your favor and all appears well, but deep down you know you’re not taking chances, not really growing? Dare we say “safe but stagnant?” Well, the following can also apply. Please don’t think of it as prescriptive.
Think of these suggestions as a spot on the wall to help you focus as the world goes spinning.
Nothing’s new here. My hope is that it simply serves as a reminder.
Our practice, ourselves. We are more than the sum of our experiences, gene-pool, creativity and proclivities. There’s something we’re uniquely gifted to bring to this potluck dinner we call life that’s just what’s needed to round out the other offerings at the table. We can’t package and present it without discipline, or the training of our impulses toward that end. Something happens when we make ourselves available for this on the regular. Ideas grow, morph, take shape, and if we stay in flow, ideas are known to grow force-defying wings. This requires we show up every day, during the thick and the thin, kicking around the box to find our way.
Don’t forget to breathe. No matter how dire the situation, you’re still the protagonist in your story, the star of the show. So let’s take care of you. Are you getting enough sleep? Exercising regularly? Spending time outdoors or in nature? Drinking enough fluids? Connecting with friends and loved ones? Learning something new? Laughing out loud?
Make a plan. All arguments of fate and the unexpected aside, Eleanor Roosevelt said it best, “You cannot use your time to the best advantage if you do not make some sort of plan.” Your plan can be complex or stunningly simple, but make one. After leaving my position as art director I took a Caribbean travel vacation to the island of Grenada. I walked into a little art gallery, and on the shelf was a children’s book entitled The Mermaid Wakes featuring a local artist’s paintings and poems. I used his simple words as the lodestar for my next chapter:
How I does it
I has a gift.
I has some plan.
I grows it.
The Art of The Incremental. In an extended period of drought, after years of cloudless skies, any size cloud is welcomed. Even one the size of a man’s fist. So don’t despise small beginnings. If stress has caused your focus to be disrupted, set your timer for 20 minutes to retrain yourself to focus again. Take a break. Come back and try another twenty minutes. Running around handling everything and need to sit down to get to work? Here’s a simple remedy. Clear enough of your workspace, gather your supplies and bring in a basin of hot water. That’s right. Sit down. Take off your socks and soak. You’re here. Might as well get to work.
Those little breakthrough events, those first twenty minutes, will move the dial or make a dent. That wee little dent is all we need to get a shot of dopamine, to feel encouraged by a wee bit of progress. Our natural inclination will be to try and try again.
During periods of stress, move the dial a wee bit daily. Any movement in the direction of your set course will boost your confidence, quiet the monkey brain, and shift your internal narrative.
Take shape of your days, even while being adaptable. A fellow writer friend invited me for a walk. That’s the sort of thing I’d purposed to do early mornings before settling into the demands of the day and home with my eleven-year old virtual learner. He writes back that he’s not available in the mornings. My calendar is dotted with zoom-a-thons and I’ve made it a point to devote two hours of intense focus to develop new work, and four hours for work soon due. Need the stretch of day to juggle gracefully and allow for unannounced interruptions. I break out into a mild sweat while composing a response. Will I sabotage the shape of my days with my inclination to accommodate? “We’ll figure something out,” I respond, a gentle way of notboxing myself into a promise that sends my schedule into a tailspin, while staying true to my commitments.
There’s magic in finding your numbers. Maybe you were that kid that wasn’t great in math. It’s only natural to run from it. But the truth is, there’s magic in finding your numbers.
Carrying quarantine kittens around the midsection? Need to lower your cholesterol, or blood pressure, or glucose levels, or get better sleep? Find your numbers. How many steps a day, how many four-minute HIT sessions, how many cups of water, servings of fruit and vegetables to jump start a lifestyle shift?
When I’m distracted by outside demands and I feel that my daughter’s constant interruptions are affecting my productivity, it’s a reminder that I haven’t been mindful. I have to ask myself, how many times did I hug her that morning, how many words of praise did she receive, how much eye contact have I given her, how much time did we spend outdoors, how much have I given to really listening? When I become mindful again is when things begin to shift.
In a creative slump? We can ask how many online courses or workshops have we taken that nudge or inspire us? How much time have we devoted to our sketchbook, or idea generation, or getting the words down on the page? How much time have we reserved for play, for recreation, for down time?
Finding our numbers often helps with challenges big and small that affect our creative ecosystem, our health, our relationships, our work and play. It’s a cascading effect.
Our practice, ourselves revisited. Remember that potluck dinner called life and that lovely dish that we uniquely and singly served up to contribute? You know, the dish that contains the gifts we’re given and all the ingredients we had to deliberately mine to get? Well something happens in the course of devotion to this practice. While we’re painting it, or writing it, it’s painting us, writing us, transforming us, steadying us, anchoring us, allowing us to find or meet ourselves.
So as the world goes on spinning, here’s to your best insights, your best work, your best year yet!