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Creative Block

Conflict & Dog Walking

Walking our new dog has brought lots of good moments:

Being up and outside in the morning (you can’t sleep in with a playful pup hopping all over the bed).

So many snuggles (she’s a spooner).

And a fresh inner conversation about conflict.

Because Blue is only 1 year old. She’s super smart and responsive, but she was an off-leash country dog in her previous life. And because I’m great at “training” (wooing) cats, which is a completely different process than teaching a dog not to jump, to walk beside you, to come when she’s called.

I’m grateful she’s such a quick learner (shake on day one?? Amazing), but there’s still a conflict of wills and interest: I want to walk, she is a hunting dog and wants to sprint.

I let her off-leash in the woods today and thouh she came closer when I called her back, I didn’t have any treats with me, and she didn’t come close enough for me to leash her until she was done sniffing.

It made me feel a little stressed and sad, a little anxious and dramatically pessimistic. Which is super interesting, because this is a DOG. A PUPPY. This is not personal.

And because I’ve been thinking about the conflict I’ve experienced regarding career stuff: it feels like conflict to have to ask for what I think is fair (my name on a poster, my book stocked in a gift shop, or just giving a price quote). In a lot of situations, no one has even said no; no one has limited me except myself. But having to ask and risking the No feels like conflict, sadness: sisyphean.

But lately I’ve been wondering if maybe asking is a huge part of my job as an independent artist. Though I want to go to conferences to “be with my people,” maybe in most cases I will instead be showing up as the Ambassador of Rose’s Realm of Delight: maybe no majority will automatically get me. Maybe, just like with Blue, my job is to teach, train, introduce, translate, reward.

Maybe every jarring tug of the leash is not a failure but part of creating connection.

Now, after an hour of walking and another of fetch in the backyard, Blue is prostrate on the grass while I sit and write. Tugging doesn’t last forever. Neither do I have to ask and ask and ask constantly in professional settings. It just feels like that in the moment.

Stand Still & Listen

Jay and I applied for the same conference (coming up this weekend). He was invited, I wasn’t, and today I’m feeling sad about it, as if it is the Only Conference In the World, aka, the Only Chance to Make Cool Friends or Have a Career in the Arts.

I want to be picked! I want to be with My People! I don’t want to have to hold political office (Roberts’ Rules! Group Decision-Making!) in order for people to value what I do! How unfair!

But here’s the Lie: That’s the only way to get picked: be some way I’m not.
And here’s the Truth: They wanted what Jay offered. 
And also: They didn’t want what I offered, but that doesn’t mean that no one does.

I’ve never been to this conference. I don’t even know if it’s made up of My People maybe, maybe not. Is it only my ego, then, that’s bruised?

It’s such a weird, weird balance: making art, dancing with inspiration, sharing it, and hoping someone comes to the show. 
(Hoping everyone comes to the show! That those who didn’t come regret it bitterly and beg for an encore performance!).
As if the only way to truly be loved is to be Loved Too Much. To be Clamored After.
That doesn’t sound like a very artsy, introvert-friendly lifestyle.

So, what do I really want?
I want the flow and exchange of delight with my audience, with My People
I want to know that when I have something to share, there are people who will get it, love it, connect with it– an impossible guarantee.
I want to trust that I can follow the Muse and be paid well, not live precariously on promises and wishes.
And I want to be just right for this job– more Capricious Zephyr and less Executive Suit that I am.

I feel sad I didn’t get picked, because the Lie says: I’ll never get picked. 
But that’s not how cause and effect work, and it’s not at all how Magic works.
I feel tired because the Lie says: I have to do it all myself, I can’t rely on anyone else to see the value I offer. (I didn’t get picked for a conference? I must– obviously!– start my own conference!) 
How exhausting.
And I feel embarrassed because the Lie says: Professionals don’t get so upset about not being picked, so I must not be a Professional.
Maybe “Professionals” don’t, but Humans do. Kids do, and I like them more than pretty much anyone else– because they’re honest and open and they know Magic.

Ennis’s school’s philosophy is “Go slow to go fast.” They have no homework at first. They build up to it. They truly master the foundations of learning, they connect with their own creative curiosity without shame. They aren’t in a rush to prove something.

(The Lie says: I’ve had plenty of time to go slow and it’s taking too long and if I don’t hurry up there won’t be any opportunities left.)

When I read The Highly Sensitive Person for the first time, I had a vision of myself on my elementary school playground. I was running, running, running to try to keep up with the pack of kids, and I was exhausted. I could barely do it. (And I certainly wasn’t having fun). Everyone else seemed fine; the pace was no problem. Every time I caught up to them, they ran off, rested and ready to go. (I had a real-life experience just like that on a canoe trip once, and it’s amazing I ever picked up a paddle again).

But I realized that surely not everyone could be running full-tilt across the field. Surely I wasn’t the literal only one who wanted to explore the secret little nooks and crannies of the playground. 

And when I stopped running… there were the others like me– My People. The other kids who didn’t think a breakneck pace was fun. The others who wanted to whisper secret messages through the PVC tubing, crawl under the decking, or set up camp in the tire tunnel. 

There were fewer of us than the mass of bodies that ran as a pack… but how many playmates did I need? How many do any of us need? Wasn’t it better to have one or two or three companions who saw (and loved) the world as I did? 

(More recently, I’ve heard Seth Godin describe this as finding your Minimum Viable Audience).

It still feels scary to stop running. To stand still. Even though I like the view far better this way: all the details visible, the colors distinct instead of being a blur; I like the quiet crunch of gravel under my shoes, the echoes of distant voices, the stillness like a lake within my body. 

So, do I still hope I get picked? Always!
But do I want to play every game, sprint every race? No. I don’t. 
Sometimes we say “No, thank you” ourselves, and sometimes someone else says it for us.

On Monday I taught the first of three “Build Your Own World” classes to a bunch of 9- to 12-year-olds. I can say without hesitation that they are definitely My People. I basked in their presence, I left inspired and energized. There was no posturing, no second-guessing, no fear, no shortness of breath. Just mutual delight as whole universes were created between us.

Maybe “Who picks me?” is really the same question as “Who do I pick?” And the thunderous chase can’t catch the answer to either. 

Maybe I must stand still, legs trembling and breath held, and– ear to the pipe– listen to the words whispered within.

Images are Symbols

How to draw my cat, Per.

I just realized that for me, drawings are symbols / touchstones / hieroglyphs– they don’t tell all of the story, that’s what the words do.

Not only that, but they don’t have to show all of the story / information, either!

Here’s some insightful mirroring from my dear friend, Kelsi:

Don’t do realistic! Your gift is making the fantastical seem more real/relevant/truthful than Reality.

And a great example from Tom Gauld’s Instagram:

(He cartoons for the New Yorker, so clearly he’s not the only person who believes illustration doesn’t need to be photo-realistic to have value).

What I have always loved about oral storytelling is that I get to give suggestions of the characters, setting, lighting. The listener fills in the rest– which produces an experience better than any movie because it is collaborative, because the listener is making their own Magic.

This is my job. This expression is a touchstone and a doorway to someone else.

Why on earth would a picture book be any different? Leave space for the reader’s Magic. (And don’t sweat the details).

Learning (or Unlearning) to Draw

I’m so excited to have finally, finally (but surely not for the last time) convinced myself that simpler is better.

That I do not need to be able to draw realistic hands/feet/whatever. And that tracing paper is a totally valid illustration medium!

This fall is going to have a lot of picture book/middle grade experimentation…

Mantra Pages

Mantra pages image

#mantrapages :

After years of faithfully writing Morning Pages (and loving it), I quit (to my surprise) last spring.

As I’ve returned to the practice it’s been slushy and unpleasant, and full of avoidance.

BUT!

Today I “cheated” and filled pages 2 and 3 with a mantra: I TAKE ACTIONS TO MANIFEST MY DREAMS.

(Because that it was the first thing that occurred to me and it sounded way better than all the grumbling and stumbling).

…And then I wrote a dozen pages of amazing, inspiring, break through ideas of programs to offer!

(Combining storytelling, cookies, yoga, music, and workshops into a marvelous sort of House Concert-Dinner Party!)

I will begin with Mantra Pages for the foreseeable future– moreso because it is a relief to feel my hand move across the page and my mind swept clear than because of any particular mantra’s message.

It is a great gift for the page to be a friend again.

Blackout Editing

I’m editing another middle grade book. It’s about a boy (Jorian) whose dreams and adventurous spirit are sorely tried by his dull, gray orphanage life– Until Ruby shows up and things start to happen. There’s a kidnapping, a gryphon, an escape, a Marsh Witch, and golems.

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I wrote the first draft the summer of 2014, shared it with some readers, and let it sit. My first crack at editing was a Question Edit– lots of Whys and What Abouts and Maybes.

But midway through, a pile-up of questions and possible solutions got me stuck. It felt like when I was a kid attempting to read the Choose Your Own Adventure books and not die or be marooned on a strange planet. I marked every “turn” with my fingers and would backtrack over and over again, trying to find the winning path. I always failed.

Tom Guald_hero's journey

So I set the manuscript aside (pretty unwillingly and basically in denial the whole time) for a month– and then remembered Austin Kleon’s Blackout Poetry.

I enjoy doing blackouts. It’s a good reminder that when I write or create I’m not actually making something up. I’m not generating anything– I’m just brushing away whatever is Not It.

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I thought, Maybe I can edit the same way: just cross out what’s Not It.

I decided to cross out whatever snagged. Whatever posed a question I couldn’t easily answer. I haven’t stuck with that rule, but it got me editing again. That black marker goes a lot faster than the red pen! It’s even freed me up enough to write some new chapters in a thin spot. (Thanks to The Story Grid for giving me a new perspective on what happens in the middle of a book).

I’m thinking of trying out Beta Readers when I finish this draft. If you’re interested in being on the list, sign up for my sporadic Mailchimp emails (and get a free download of 5 of my favorite oral stories).

In the meantime– grab an old magazine and try Blackout Poetry for yourself. See where it takes you.

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When You’re Overwhelmed

The reason you get overwhelmed is because you’re looking ahead. You’re looking to the future and feeling inadequate; you know you don’t know how to handle all those problems.

And you don’t.

photo: David Prasad

It’s a long way up.                             photo: David Prasad

 

But you aren’t there yet. You aren’t supposed to be tackling those issues right now. Right now you are supposed to be in the present.

 

This kid is in the moment. photo: Mahalie Stackpole

This kid is in the moment.

photo: Mahalie Stackpole

When my son was a baby, I agonized over what would happen once he could walk. (My niece was a 6-month crawler and 9-month walker… and that was just around the corner!)

What I didn’t realize was that, besides him being a much later walker (he was a chunky baby), there was the scooting stage, the crawling stage, the toddling-while-holding-onto-furniture stage.

By the time we actually got to the walking stage, I was ready for it. My life didn’t fall apart. My house didn’t look like vandals had broken in. It was a slow process.

Sure, some things hit you faster than you expect, but our brains jump ahead so easily that we often don’t notice we’re thinking three steps into the future.

When you feel tempted to curl into the fetal position, chuck the manuscript, or vow to never, never, never ask another probing, door-opening question of your characters again, stop. Look around you. Where are you now?

Just do what you need to do for now.

The rest will take care of itself when it comes.

by Maria Ly

If you stay in the present, you can relax almost anywhere.                                    phot: Maria Ly

Why Creative Blocks are a Good Thing

On Writer’s Block jumped into my box at the Friends of the Library Book Sale.

I was wary– I’ve done The Artist’s Way, this could be old territory.

But Victoria Nelson had me Aha-ing with every chapter.

Primarily, she says that a block can be the sign of creative integrity.

It shows up and halts all activity when the Ego is trying to muscle the Soul/Unconscious into something that isn’t quite right.

We should use blocks as guideposts.

Stop and uncover what is at the cause of it.

What is the resistance?

I know this, but it was powerful and helpful to see it all written out so matter-of-factly.

A block safeguards the work until Ego can handle it.

A block stops you from digging around to see if the seeds are actually growing (an act that would kill the garden).

A block is a sign of creative health, not ever of failure.

Take Comfort in What I’m Telling You

Dear Younger Rose,

By the time I write this to you, things that seem impossible to you have already been done a dozen times.

Publishing books is easy.

Connecting with readers is easy.

And making a good living writing, channeling, sharing creativity and being SEEN is easy. It’s LIFE now.

I believe you that it feels hard and impossible. It happens anyway. You can’t stop it, it’s just how our life goes. Isn’t that a comfort? So try not to kick and fight so much along the way. Certainly don’t berate yourself. It all turns out. I know because I live it now.

My life is good now because of all the things you’ve been doing, even the things that at the moment seem like nothing. Starting to write a few short blog posts has led to books on creativity and support, and professional speaking tours that open people up to themselves and their Muse.

Lizzie’s story as a trilogy is complete and wonderful! It’s widely read and well-loved. It has changed people’s lives. It’s beautiful writing and it has been pivotal in the story of women, identity and worth.

And yeah, I’ve met Philip Pullman and Neil Gaiman. (And once you get a letter from Older-Older Rose you’re going to find out and have to accept that we’ve been given an Astrid Lindgren award. Pretty cool, huh?)

But the most amazing and wonderful thing is that you’ve kept writing. I’ve kept writing. We write every day. I live a life I love because of you, because of all the shit and tangled stuff you’re stumbling through. It really has made a huge difference. Thank you for doing that, especially when it just feels like wasted energy, like spinning your wheels. It’s not, I promise.

I have a 401k and a retirement account. I have full health care. Yes, I finally got braces. It was easier and quicker than you think it will be.

And Ennis turns out amazing, like you always knew he would. He’s still my best teacher and the most beautiful person I’ve ever met.

And things are good with Jay, too. I know that’s been a sore subject for a while and you don’t really want to open up and hear it, but all that messy, painful stuff wasn’t such a big deal. It works out, really, and it’s not just tolerable. We really do understand each other better. Again, all that messy shit you’ve been going through that feels so pointless and painful is what has made all this possible. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The house got painted.

The laundry got folded.

The addition got finished.

The savings account filled up.

The credit cards went to zero.

The cat lived along and happy life.

You got a dog who was wonderful.

Your mom moved to Grand Marais.

You forgave yourself for not being able to save your parents’ marriage.

You started writing letters again and now I get to open the p.o. box to a rainbow of lovely words from around the world.

You biked around Britain with your family.

You learned how to do acupuncture and energy healing.

You got back into exercising (and you dropped off and got back on again, but you accepted the cycle).

You acted in so many plays! So many great plays!

And you opened up to people you love.

You gathered your tribe around you, and now I am wise and grounded and I get to be free with them– I get to share and love freely and fearlessly, and I’m so happy.

That weight on your chest is gone.

You DO get enough sleep.

You DO have a healthy life. It really just was the young-child-years that felt to busy and exhausting. Don’t worry, you don’t go back to them.

I know you’re aching for all of this now. I feel the waves of your deep longing across time. Take comfort in what I’m telling you: that it all comes to good. This life comes to good! Every moment of imperfection is not to be seen as evidence of failure– they become so unremarkable with time! In the golden light of where I am now. The edges soften and things make so much sense.

I know you don’t want to waste anything.

I know you want to be enough.

I know you want to rest.

Be enough.

Rest.

Let go of everything and nothing is wasted.

Every good thing? You deserve it.

I give it to you as a gift because I adore you, no other reason.

Take it easily and do whatever you want with it– there are no strings attached.

If you would like to send me a present, my favorite thing in the world is your joy. Your light. What I want most is for you to live easily, to feel the space around you, to know that you are exactly enough, exactly right, exactly the only way I could ever possibly want you to be. I don’t mean be kind to yourself in a lie. I mean be alive and joyful and free in the truth that there is nothing wrong with you; there is nothing wrong here. Nothing wrong at all.

You are exactly right.

I love you completely.

Goodnight.

-R.

What If Daphne Doesn’t Have to Grow Up Too Soon?

I’ve been stuck in a manuscript for about a year.

It’s been sad and frustrating: What if I never get back to it and all those beautiful characters languish and then just shrivel up and disappear, like those forfeited souls kept by Disney’s sea witch, Ursula??

But I’ve also known that I just had to wait, that there was something I was missing without which I couldn’t carry on writing the story.

Then, in the midst of musing that someday I’ll write a seven-book series akin to “Harry Potter” it hit me:

What if Daphne not only doesn’t have to leave Extraordinaria in a month but she spends seven years (and seven books) there?

What if she actually doesn’t have to grow up too soon?

What if it’s a better deal (and bigger adventures) than Narnia?

Somewhere in this big house I feel a door swing open.

A breeze blows through and stirs the air.

The story moves, flutters, begins to wake.