Loading...
Browsing Tag

Creative Block

Most of it is Junk (it’s not just you!)

(I most often write for and work with kids. This post is not limited to Kid-Appropriate Language.)

“I like to try to apply [the] spirit of crate-digging to everyday life. The only way to find the good stuff, the special stuff, the genuine moments and the true inspiration, is to first engage with the everyday, the mundane, the seemingly useless, the things nobody else seems to care about. [To dig through the junk].”

Robert Walker, talking about DJs digging through crates and crates of shitty records

I really like the context of MOST THINGS ARE JUNK– it’s very Ecclesiastes: we’re all gonna die and life is hard, so drink and be merry with your friends once in a while and don’t worry about it so much (you can’t do anything about it anyway).

Isn’t it interesting and strange that I feel so much better when the context is IT’S ALL A MESS? Because I no longer have to worry about fucking it all up– it is crap. Nothing I do can make it more crap.

And if I only have to do better than Total Shit… Well, I can do that (at least some of the time)! That’s doable, bite-sized. I mean, I won’t always achieve that, but failing won’t actually make anything worse than it already is. I CAN’T MAKE IT WORSER, AND I CAN’T MAKE IT “GOOD” aka PERFECT. I can only maybe make a moment more bearable.

But if the Law says I Must Not Mess Shit Up because otherwise society will fall to chaos because of my dumbass– there’s no room to even begin, to even answer an email– if I answer it promptly today, I know it’s only a matter of time before I fuck up, because failure is inevitable. As with that time Jay gave me lessons in snowboarding, each success only only moves me higher up the hill and lends me more momentum when I inevitably come crashing down (thus, all successes are really evidence that it’s gonna hurt even more when I fail). (But it’s possible Jay was right in telling me to move up the Bunny Hill: that more momentum makes it easier to succeed, to get the hang of it. Maybe we should be learning how to fall better).

If EVERYONE is shit at email, at dishes, at folding their laundry, at going to bed at a reasonable time and eating enough leafy greens, if EVERYONE is wiping out all the time… then… maybe I’m not so terrible?

This is such a backwards-sounding wish, but I want to see how everyone is fucking everything up and actually no one (well, not including Michelle Obama) no one is actually better at adulting than I am… because then I could actually HELP people. I could DO stuff. Perform a little triage, staunch the bleeding, sit in hospice with someone. (And not delude myself with hopes of defeating the inevitable death that comes for them and for me).

EVERYONE IS AFRAID OF FUCKING UP ALL THE TIME. EVERYONE IS AFRAID THEY ALREADY MADE THE WRONG CHOICES.

I’m not “qualified to help them” because I’m Amazing and Advanced– I’m qualified because I care. Because I want to try. Because I’m Here. Because I’m a mirror for Beauty. And even in a junk pile, people are beautiful– IT’S LIKE A HOMEMADE PIE: NO MATTER HOW MUCH OF AN OOZING MESS IT IS, IT IS BEAUTIFUL– truly beautiful, because it is alive, it has soul, it has ATTENTION, and

“attention is love.”

Karen Maezen Miller

Wow. Living well is the same as making a pie from scratch. No matter how it turns out it’s beautiful. Something magical happens when you make a crust and fill it with fruit and bake it for an hour– things merge and it’s they transform. (I hadn’t fully articulated before how making pie is a spiritual act– it’s so redemptive BECAUSE YOU CAN’T FUCK IT UP. IT’S LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO FAIL. A bad pie has to be really, really, really impossibly bad to be Bad– I don’t think it’s even a pie anymore at that state– and even then you can still eat the filling).

So, it’s extremely important for my freedom and full expression and health and creativity to really know I am not actually able to fuck things up any worse than they are: The house is burning/falling down– why worry the paint you chose might be too “loud?”

YOUR BODY IS FALLING DOWN. IT IS MAKING ITS WAY BACK INTO THE EARTH. AS LONG AS YOU ARE NOT TRULY CRUEL TO ANYONE, YOU CANNOT FAIL MORE THAN DEATH*. You can only die once (and it’s not a punishment).

So, write a shitty book. Draw lazy illustrations. Don’t bother with an ISBN. It doesn’t matter! Doing it right isnt a real thing! Sing the wrong note– sing almost all the right notes but sing sharp. It doesn’t matter! The world is a mess. Everyone is a mess. Everyone will die. There’s no redemption because there’s no sin. There’s no fault for the chaos of being a person– this “oh, shit” feeling is not a punishment– it’s just the weird truth, like gravity.

IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU FUCK UP. EVERYTHING IS “FUCKED UP.”

Congratulations: if you’re fucking things up left and right you are 1000% normal, you’re right on track.

See lots of JUNK everywhere? Congratulations again. Nothing is wrong with you— you’re just paying attention. (And attention is love: keep looking– it’s the only way to find something wonderful).

We are all 8th graders / 3rd graders / overly-tires toddlers who happen to be allowed to drive cars and use the stove and there’s no one to tell us when not to spend money or when to go to bed.

I think we’re doing pretty well. We could certainly do much worse.


*(I do believe there are some “cardinal sins,” like not recycling– that hurts my heart! This rant is about how it’s not my fault life is so fucking uncomfortable– there’s no linear correlation– so I can stop being afraid of someone blaming me for everything and kicking me out of the treehouse.)

Resolutions, Traps, & Letting the Horse Out of the Barn

When things get difficult, is your instinct to invest the effort to make it better, or to set a trap so it all gets worse?

Because if things get worse, well, then you won’t have to deal with them much longer.

-Seth Godin

Seth Godin is a favorite of mine. (The Icarus Deception is a particular favorite– it flushes out all the “stay small” propaganda of growing up in a small town).

Self-sabotage seems a very timely topic at the start of a new year, filled with potential, a clean slate, brimming with resolutions. It’s uncomfortable to NOT set a trap– to sit with uncertainty or with fear of failure. But it also feels like a good stretch– like muscles that hurt just a little but feel stronger each time.

In early 2019 I told a friend, “Shame is the horse to break.” (Her response was great– “Why is it a horse? Why not a cat?” She also pointed out that when you get a new, unfamiliar horse you ought to give it sugar cubes first.).

In 2020 I want to root, ground, expand– live sustainably by having daily practices (such as sharing writing here), rather than focusing on a project. I want projects to grow naturally out of practices. To stick with the horse metaphor, this means feeding the horse and taking it out of the barn at regular times. (My dog, Blue, is flexible until 10am, and then we MUST go walking or she’ll lose her mind and likely chew something up).

It’s obvious that you have a better relationship with the animal you ride (or walk) everyday, at approximately the same time. There’s trust, there’s anticipation, an easiness between you. I’d like that experience with writing books, scheduling gigs, practicing songs, making a podcast.

If I meet the horse, the muse, each day, it’s less likely to buck me off. Right? (Or, at least I’ll be less likely to be afraid of a fall, and be more graceful when I do).

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.

IMG_0471

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.

IMG_0354

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.

IMG_0355

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.