The Power of Downshifting

1956_MGA_Rick_Feibusch_2012When I was a teenager I learned how to drive a stick shift on my father’s vintage 1950’s MGB convertible. He’d bought it from a neighbor for $1.00. Pulling a cord tucked into the inside of the car door, opened the door. I took the solid hard top off to cruise in style to high school and the plastic windows slid side-to-side. To slow the car down, without applying the brakes, I learned how to downshift. Using the clutch and gear shift I changed the manual transition to a lower gear to slow the car down.

This past spring, I metaphorically downshifted,  I slowed my activities down and simplified.  I had an abundance of good things but too little time. I needed to take several volunteer and professional responsibilities off my plate in order to open space for other priorities. You can read more about it in the essay I wrote for the Fairfield Writer’s Blog, A Writer’s Choice: My Seven Steps to Saying Goodbye to Something I Love. Wanting to have more time to be with my high school senior in the college looking and applying process, I felt sad letting all my volunteer work go, but I knew the benefits of a calmer Mom. The hardest activity for me to stop was one that I’d been leading for seven years. It was an on-going Writing Critique Group,

However, the previous winter, my boss asked me to lead a different kind of writing group on the Saturdays that I was already working. Agreeing to it I planned on leading both, totally different writing groups, in two different libraries. Now, as I prepare for the new group starting in September, I’m  reminded that the Universe works in mysterious ways. Last spring I downshifted to ease off and allow space, in doing so I let go of something I deeply enjoyed. Yet, I gained being more available to our son. More time means I can access my humor more often. Now that I’m developing my curriculum for the new Creative Writing Workshop that I’ll be leading on the third Saturday of every month starting September 19, 2015 at Pequot Library, I’m back in my inventive flow again.

Creativity and wellness message for today: Trust that when you let something go, you might be surprised at what the Universe puts in its place.

With Art in Mind . . .

14230036541q9cv“Fine art is that
in which
the hand,
the head,
and the heart
go together.”
-John Ruskin

From Wikipedia:
John Ruskin (8 February 1819 – 20 January 1900) was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, also an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist. He wrote on subjects ranging from geology to architecture, myth to ornithology, literature to education, and botany to political economy. His writing styles and literary forms were equally varied.

Creativity is a Renewable Resource

1396433877369I’m reading Biz Stone’s Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind. Biz is the co-founder of Twitter. Why not read it along with me and let me know what you think?

He had me hooked in the introduction:
“This book is more than a rags-to-riches tale. It’s a story about making something out of nothing*, about merging your abilities with your ambitions, and about what you learn when you look at the world through a lens of infinite possibility. Plain hard work is good and important, but it is ideas that drive us, as individuals, companies, nations, and a global community. Creativity is what makes us unique, inspired, and fulfilled.”

*Making something out of nothing is what artists, composers, choreographers, and writers do all the time!

Creativity and wellness message for today: Read this book, be exhilarated, let me know what you think.

Poem in Your Pocket Day: April 24

poem_in_pocket-daySave the date: Poem in Your Pocket Day 2014 will be held on Thursday, April 24! On Poem in Your Pocket Day, people throughout the United States select a poem, carry it with them, and share it with others throughout the day.

You can also share your poem selection on Twitter by using the hashtag #pocketpoem.

Why is this cool? It’s cool because it celebrates creativity and poetry and it brings poetry to the masses. It involves community and is an individual act, all at the same time. April is National Poetry Month.

What’s National Poetry Month? National Poetry Month is a month-long, national celebration of poetry established by the Academy of American Poets. The concept is to widen the attention of individuals and the media—to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern.

Reading a good poem takes me to a place of richness that I wasn’t in a moment before, such as this one . . .

Sleeping in the Forest

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

from Sleeping In The Forest by Mary Oliver

I’m more grounded after reading it, awakened, and oddly satisfied.

Creativity and wellness message for today: Commit to doing something poetic this month.

 

 

The Truth About Nighttime Dreams

IMG_1367I’ve been following the wisdom of my nighttime dreams for decades. Guidance from that knowledge has been like a tiller in my hand, helping me steer the sailboat of my life.

Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright, screenwriter, and novelist, Marsha Norman says:

“Dreams are illustrations from the book your soul is writing about you.”

So true!

Creativity and wellness message for today: Write down what was in your dream last night. Don’t edit, just write it down. Then be open to how that one act might help you set the course of your day (or your life.)

Time Management: For Creative People

time_for_creativesI’ve been writing a newsletter, under tight time frames for my company. Deadlines loomed, stress mounted, and nerves frayed. As anxiety increased I wasn’t sure I’d meet my deadlines and this made me even more nervous.

Then I remembered that time management for creative people isn’t rigid and linear. For creative types time is fluid, priorities are in contact flux. Once I became aware of this I remembered a philosophical point from my meditation practice, “follow the energy.”

When I followed what interested me, where my passion led me, that inspired a new direction for the newsletter, and the whole thing came together. The theme became clear, my work was productive and my deadline was met.

Creativity and wellness message for today: To maximize your skills, remember that time isn’t the thing to be managed, its our awareness.

The Power of Sketchbooks

Kraft Sketch Book openWhen I was an art major in college I hated sketchbook assignments. Monotony overwhelmed me as I looked around my banal dorm room. How many times could I sketch my roommate Koko’s worn black socks draped over her sturdy shoes without throwing my charcoal stick out the window? I was the kind of artist who liked to invent what I created. That’s why I loved photography and printmaking. Those mediums allowed for serendipity, happy “accidents,” and magic.

Decades later, you won’t find me sketching my son’s white threadbare athletic socks draped over his running shoes. You will however hear me singing the praises of the act and art of keeping a sketchbook.

As an artist, writer, and a journal keeper, I group sketchbooks and journals into the same category. They all chronicle our lives, just use different ways of expressing it.

Last year, I met a sculptor in his studio/gallery in Northampton, MA. Samuel Rowlett made these cool, life-size stretched canvases. He attached them to his back and made self-portrait photographs in remote natural environments. As he and I chatted I remember him saying that sketchbooks saved his live. I recall he had been a new dad, an at-home house husband and father. He was used to creating big 3-D projects, but was limited to a small, two-dimensional notebook in his new role. Sketching was his saving grace.

I’ve experienced similar rapture, not from sketching what is I front of my face, but from writing in my nighttime dream journal, or participating in an international sketchbook project. The top shelf of my closet holds year’s worth of journals in all sizes, colors, textures, and shapes. My journals and sketchbooks aren’t the diary type. They don’t list the weather or what I had for dinner. They document transition times in my life. My hopes, fears, wishes, loves, passions, mistakes, and yearnings. My entries are self-portraits from a moment in time. The act and art of putting something down, in an intimate, hand-held form, that I can refer back to, is validating, instructive, and profound.

Creativity and wellness message for today: Brush off your old journal or start a new sketchbook. You never know where it may lead you.

Creative Gifts: Respond to What’s Inside You

drumming manEnjoying Japanese food and a glass of Chardonnay last night with a friend, I listened as she told me about joining a local artist’s collective. She is renting studio space, outside of her home. My friend was so happy to be back in the nest of like-minded creative souls. I was so lucky to be able to rejoice with her.

She said, “I haven’t painted, I mean really painted in 20 years.” I nodded, “I understand.”

Her longing, that she turned into bliss, reminds me of a quote from Joy Harjo’s book Crazy Brave.

“If you do not answer the noise and urgency of your gifts, they will turn on you, or drag you down with their immense sadness at being abandoned.”

Creativity and wellness message: Start today by listening to your inner drum beat. Respond to the calling of your gifts.

Feeling Depleted? Reach for a Quote

quotation-marksOn this crisp Autumn morning, I yearn to take it easy. However, I’m up before dawn, not to milk the cows, but to make breakfast and lunch boxes for my family, and support them getting out the door for work and school. Then I’m upstairs to write something before my writing critique group meets in an hour. After that I’m off to work. No wonder I seem to be running on empty these days. The local coffee shop would recommend I run in and grab a cuppa Joe. Instead I reach for something deeper.

While in college I started keeping quotes. The first one I ever kept was by the choreographer Martha Graham. She advised to use your gift, because it is yours to give. There is only one unique you. My collection of quotes has grown over the years. Whenever I read something that pulls at my heart or makes me gasp, I jot it down and store it in a folder. Mine are currently in two places, tangible and at-the-ready. One is in my cobalt blue three-ring binder that holds ideas for this blog. The other is in a threadbare moss-green file folder in a drawer of my white Formica desk.

Allowing for serendipity plays a part in this enrichment practice. Today, the blue binder won out. This was on top:

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.
– William Wordsworth

Creativity and wellness message for today: When your energy is low, reach for something bigger than yourself.

Artistic Endeavors: The Dirty Work

IMG_20130506_074956We are used to seeing the end result of artistic pursuits: listening in a concert hall as the orchestra plays the finale; mesmerized by viewing a painting in a still, quiet museum; or watching the curtain drop at the end of a play. The other day, however, I found myself immersed in the polar opposite of the finished product. I was in the dirty work in the middle of creation.

At 6:00am I was standing on the cold cement floor of my dank basement, in my pajamas, doing the messy part of creativity. Since taking a Clay Matrix Printmaking workshop I’ve been so excited to begin using my newly discovered art technique. Part of the process is keeping the clay matrix I use as my printing plate, moist.

Gathering supplies for the last few months has kept me focused on making sure I had everything ready. I also made sure the clay matrix was damp at all times. My teacher taught us to spray water on a synthetic towel, keep the slab in a clean plastic garbage bag, and check it every two weeks.

I’ve mail-ordered supplies such as a pizza roller (used as a brayer when making the prints). Stencils were found either in nature or I spotted them in everyday kitchen and household goods stores. Utensils like spatulas and fly swatters will be used to create unusual textures. Where to order clay and pigments was next on my list. All these tasks have been clean ones, and every two weeks, just like my teacher taught me, I wet a towel draped over the clay. Over the last few months I looked repeatedly for a synthetic towel, not finding one, I thought a cotton towel would do. An old, red, frayed cotton one.

Not  having a dedicated art studio, my slab is sitting on top of a pile of cardboard boxes, next to my laundry baskets, in my unfinished basement. Watching the second-hand tick on my watch, knowing I still needed to walk up two flights of stairs, shower and then drive to work, I was determined to stay in the basement. Because the clay matrix has to be kept damp, I’d quickly opened the plastic bag that morning, after switching a load of laundry. To my surprise, I found black, spotty, growing mold. My art slab was in jeopardy because of an old, red, frayed cotton towel.

Using the top of my washing machine as a make-shift studio table, I scraped dark mold and mildew off the wooden matrix frame. My thumbnail became my steadiest tool. Gently flicking mold off the clay itself became a sort of meditation. I had to do it slowly or else I would gouge the clay. After my labor of love, my matrix salvaged, I was satisfied and determined to find a synthetic towel that would eliminate the molding problem. If I was able to create prints and use the matrix daily or weekly (in my dreams!) the mold would not have had time to grow.

However, I did return upstairs, from the underground studio, elated. I was happy because, before going to work, I claimed time for my artist self. I also knew I had to find that synthetic towel. Soon I would have a new monoprint to hang on my walls.

Creativity and wellness message for today: Like a pig in mud, wallow in the dirty work, the behind-the-scenes of creativity.