Saturday, November 13, 2010

Straining for Art

I've had a major epiphany out here on the road over the following five days, and being that it may benefit other artists out there, I thought I'd take the time to share my newfound mental freedom with you.

The subject came up in one of my late night talks with a bestie I was learning with over the course of the week: we'd go to bed at a decent hour and end up talking or laughing over a million subjects and waking too early the next day with heavy lids.

It was sleep-over-a-riffic!!!

One night the subject of the creative well came up, and I lamented that over the last few weeks my cache of new ideas had become as dry and brittle as New Mexico before Monsoon season;
ideas simply ceased to flow.
This was extra terrifying because, as a working artist, I depend on this wonderful waterfall of inspiration for my marital share of our daily bread:

what's a dry girl to do?

Well, I muscled through it. I revisited older designs, touched back on classic pieces I loved and wished to innovate as best I could and generally woke with a lot of fear on most days, the most recurring sentence being,

"What if I never get my groove back?"

This nail-biter applies across the board, be you saleswoman, handyman, crossing guard or pro ball player: when the juice you count on is tapped out, where do you turn for solace and a possible refill?

Well, we mostly muscle through it, don't we? We grit our teeth, harden our jaw and make that 17th cold call, lacking the most basic interest in our potential client because we're zombified and already resigned to failure.

We run drills, knowing that we can keep floating via muscle memory for a while, hoping that in the meantime our prayers find their own answers.

If you're like me, you just continue on, fear leeching joy out of the very thing that has woken you up in the morning with a smile for nearly four years:
the creative life, well-lived.

When I hopped in my car on Monday morning, I was shocked by the warmth of the sun and the fall leaves in south San Jose, and even more surprised by my emotional response: why had I not taken drives to see them?

Had I really just spent the last few weeks in my house, deep in the foxhole of concentration and fearful thoughts?

What sweet relief there was in seeing the greater world, feeling the wind on my face as I made my way to Long Beach: what a moment!!

In my midnight whispered talking with my fellow student, I was finally able to articulate the idea I had been having about creative fatigue and what roads one could take to climb out of it - I will share them here with you, and it is my greatest hope that they will help you, too when the skill you most rely on becomes seemingly dormant.

1. Learn:

take a class, cheap ones can be found at community colleges and adult centers around the country: just google your interest and I guarantee you'll be pleasantly surprised with classes you find that are available in your area.

2. Set up a fund for your creative well:

20 dollars a week when you're flying high on endless ideas will really come in handy when you're dry a few months later:
three months of this kind of saving could mean $240.00 towards a class or a weekend trip to refill your well when you need it most.

3. Don't be afraid to take a break:

A well-placed walk can rescue you from a void: meditation will assuredly give your brain the space to breathe and problem-solve without force or fear.

4. Ask your mentors:

When you come to a sticky place in your professional or personal development, ask an esteemed colleague or beloved icon what they've done when faced with similar circumstances: you'll find that they have been there, survived and will likely find themselves revisiting growth as we all do: their larger breath of experience may mean excellent advice will be passed down to you: at the very least, it will mean that you no longer feel alone in your confusion or grief.

5. Confront your Fears:

As though you were old friends, ask your fear or inner critic what they need most and then listen patiently for their answer: you may find a poignant response where you expected harsh criticism or a bottomless pit.
Perhaps it's as simple as adjusting your schedule or canceling an unnecessary meeting: it may be as complicated as counseling to heal an old wound or learn tools for a better life.
Whatever the answer, you may be surprised to find that you have compassion for the very thing you reject in your psyche.

6. Practice Gratitude:

Things always look better when you are grateful for what you have, be it a little or a lot: practicing mindful gratitude opens the door for more of the same and makes you a whole lot more fun to live with, work for and be around.
Make a daily list of the people, places and things you marvel over: it's fun and uplifting.

I think I personally am done muscling. Taking the engraving class opened up a place in my heart and head that I've forgotten about and I feel committed to creating in a healthy and measured manner.

I know I'll fail sometimes and ride the tide of genuine inspiration too hard to its bitter end, forgetting to go to the beach and flip out over a new restaurant or museum, but I will come back to this post when I need reminding.

Right now I am clear and excited to come home and dig into new techniques and designs.
I don't want the spirit of fear or lack-driven angst in my studio:

there is enough of everything that I have ever needed and I need not look farther than the world outside my door to find it;
adventure awaits!!!



Corinna said...

Amen. Thanks for this Sunny.


Nialah said...

Whenever you feel tired and worn down, take the time to let your spirit soar freely towards the heavens.

Sending you lots of love my dear friend.



mme. bookling said...

How Stella (aka) Candace gets her grove back.

In no particular order:
There MUST be a space for even the most mundane of thoughts to run their course. My internal dialouge is rich and copious, but if I cannot hear it, I will become creatively constipated.

Since writing is my specific medium, there MUST be an unserious outlet for the flow...otherwise sitting down to do the work will become much MUCH too much pressure.

My lit teachers always, ALWAYS recommened this as a way to work through writer's block. Read poetry, prose, and anything else you can get your hands on that you love.

-Be outside as much as possible.
One of the things I loved most about reading Plath's journals was learning of how much she and Ted would take 10-15 mile nature walks...daily. IMPERATIVE for any artist, I say.

- Talk to a friend.
My friends (especially the artists) are a WELL-SPRING of inspiration.

Love your mention regarding fear. Patience with self IS patience with the muse.

Gotta love you and that infectious smile today. I simply must meet you...since my two beloveds love you so, I certainly am destined to as well. It's in the stars.

jaunebleu said...

Very good advice, Allison!

If I may add - "disconnect" - it has always worked well for me. By that I mean letting go, not trying to push ideas out, refocusing the energy onto something else. I find hikes and long strolls on the beach do wonders for my creative well.

Enjoy your amazing trip!


Sunny Rising Leather said...

Corinna: thanks for YOU :)

M - I miss you :)

Candace: you name the place, I will meet you there :) Your ideas are perfection :) xoxoxoxox

Irina: Ah, disconnecting = yes :) xoxoxoxox

Mari Huertas said...

Fantastic post. Loved it. Thanks for writing and sharing.