I think that one of the biggest problems with adults is the inability to listen.
I mean, really listen.
We live in this fast-paced, texting-social-media-I’m-too-busy world, and even when we are slowing down and trying to tune in, I really think that it’s all too often an act.
Learning to shut up our own brains and listen is one of the hardest things to do. It takes effort, and focus, and it takes a lot of forgetting-your-pride.
I try (but often fail) to listen: listen to the whispers in my heart; listen to the nudges of the Universe; listen to my own responses. But most importantly, listening to my kids (biological and students) is the most important listening I think I can do.
The thing is … kids are honest. And if we slow down enough to listen – really listen – then we can dig into what is said/not said/demonstrated, and we can learn.
Imagine. A kid can teach an adult. (Insert studio-audience-canned-gasp here.)
The other morning, I was getting my two year old ready to go to his once-a-week visit to a sitter. I was buckling him in, and the conversation went:
Kingsley: “I’m goin’ to (sitters) and you’re goin’ to work, Daddy.”
Me: “Where do I work?”
Kingsley: “At school-o.”
Me: “What do I do at school?”
Kingsley: “You draw all day.”
I draw all day.
My heart stopped. I was listening.
My son, who has visited me at school but has never seen me draw there, because I don’t teach art and don’t really draw at school very often … my son had worked out what he sees, how I speak, and the pieces of his and my world, and boiled those down into my biggest wish: to draw all day.
I’m not saying the kid’s a psychic, or a mind reader. I am saying, sometimes it is clearer to a kid than it is to an adult. He’s right – I do want to draw all day. If I could afford to draw all day, I would be drawing all day.
I’m always thinking about, and talking about, “staying the art.” This is my tried and true method for keeping the gremlins at bay and my soul full.
There are ebbs and flows with art, as with anything, and so it is with the holiday season. It is so, so, so easy to say “Fugheddaboutit!” – drop the pencils and pens and markers and paintbrushes and notebooks and ideas, and just take in the holidays for all of their wonder.
But then … that’s too difficult.
It’s too difficult to let those things go without losing momentum, calling forth the wolves of fear and the creativity-killing gremlins. Lord knows, I am busy and it would be very easy to sleep in until 6am in order to catch up on lost sleep, to focus my time solely on family gatherings and food and fun, to channel all of my energy into these last two weeks at work before a two week vacation, and to say “Hey, I get 2 weeks off, so I will just MEGA MAKE then!”
But if I just stop because of those reasons?
I’ll be super sad
I’ll be very easily irritated (just ask my wife)
I’ll have a tired soul
The ideas bursting in my head that can’t come forth in the tangible world will make me feel excited, then sad, then mad, then guilty, then lost and uninspired
So it isn’t worth it to drop everything, but I also know that I can’t continue to work at the same pace as I do the rest of the year, without losing my mind. And I am getting close … this morning on the way to school, I looked at the passenger seat and noticed my drill sitting there. Why did I bring a drill to school?! Losing. It.
It’s now about a shift in perspective.
I am doing the following in order to feel successful, to feel growth, to honour my need and desire to create, and to stay in the art while stepping back a bit:
I’ve focused my “to do” list on things that will bring me creative freedom: exploration, the things that have been tugging at my heart but I haven’t been fitting in (for me, right now, that is a few traditionally painted pieces over the prints I’ve been making for my shop, commissions and some writing/illustrating passion projects)
Continue to carve out some time. It just may be less. Be okay with that. Last week, I worked from 5am-6am on my picture book dummy, and then at night, I worked on a commission. I was filling every little space with making art, and by the end of the week, I was exhausted. This week and next, I’m finding that time, acknowledging it, and then only choosing to fill it with art for some of the time. I need to remember to breathe.
Get lost. Light a candle and play some great music. I love discovering new music with Youtube’s autoplay – I start with something that I like and a few songs in I am usually discovering something new. With the candle on the table, I’m breathing and experiencing the moment. It is a bit of a ritual, and I love getting lost in those moments.
I’ve given myself permission to explore and fail. I always have this in the back of my mind, but I am REALLY focused on it right now. Frankly, I think I am trying to fail and rule out what isn’t working for me. While I’m painting, I keep saying to myself, “Self, if this sucks, just don’t show anyone. If this is a failure, you can paint over it.” I’m trying to remind my deepest self that it is NOT wasting time to make failed art – just making it is a success.
I’m journalling. I always WANT to journal and talk about it, but I have yet to make this practice stick. I usually don’t know what to say or write about, and feel awkward telling things to myself, so instead I have recently been making a page per week that I add to over time. I ask myself a question and I look for answers in my every day experiences. Which brings me to the next point, because this has been the focus of my journalling …
These last couple of weeks – which, by the way, lead up to me realizing that it was
time to step back and just make – I’ve been intentionally seeking out beauty. The little things. THAT is inspiring – when you notice the nuance of the light or the way the snow lilts in the air; the inflection of a two year old’s voice or the whole-body-smile of a ten week old human being. Finding this beauty will shift perspectives, big time.
I don’t have a massive list of projects or goals. My list is more about being in the art, making stuff, and being present. Listening. It’s about taking some time to think about it, without a big product at the end. In essence, this is what all making is about, but of course, at some point we want to have something to show for our process. The next two weeks, though, aren’t about product, but are most certainly about process.
Find some little fun projects that relate to the holidays. My wife and I have, for the last ten years, been making each other an ornament for Christmas. We go to the art store and we each have 5 minutes and $10, and we secretly race around the store looking for what we need and stealthily purchase the materials, then make-make-make in our alone time and give the gift on Christmas Eve. This fun activity keeps me thinking creatively, but isn’t about something I will post or share or sell.
Make something with someone else – like a kid. I painted last night with my 2 year old, and he mostly directed me. We painted on a hardboard canvas with watercolor over crayon scribbled, and then he suggested that we add salt. The results were really quite pretty, and since I was making with him, there was no pressure – it was just about being together. But, my soul was filled.
My favourite collaborator.
Our combined effort to make something.
In order to stay creative and in the art over the busy holidays, we need to focus on the art – not on skills, not on techniques, not even on the finished thing that we made, but simply being in the moment, being in the art, and being a creator.
I stand for kindness, respect, love, hope, and kindness. Above all else – above math concepts and spelling, above scores on standardized testing – I stand for these things.
I stand with all indigenous people, muslims, LGBTQ, immigrants, alter-abled, women, the disenfranchised, refugees, all people of colour, veterans, survivors, and anyone feeling alone and scared.
If you would like to join in, then create your own and share it for free with the hashtag #artistsforlove. You don’t even need to be an artist. You can just be someone who feels called to stand with the world, and all of the people who live within it.
I’ve always wanted to be a morning person. I’ve read book after book for creative people saying, “If you get up before anyone else, you’ll get more done!” I knew it was probably true, but I told myself the same story: I’m NOT a morning person.
WANT TO KNOW HOW AND SKIP THE WHY? Scroll down to the lists – the #1 MOST IMPORTANT TIP is the last one! 🙂
The thing is, I used
to be a night person. But after having one baby, I was no longer a night person. I wasn’t a morning person. I was a “from 10am to 2pm” person. The rest of the time? Exhausted!
Something had to change. I wasn’t working regularly enough and I wasn’t getting to the never-ending list of ideas I had. I knew I wanted to work on them, and I knew I didn’t want to wait until retirement, or summer break, or the weekend, or the next lifetime to get to these ideas.
And then … we had another baby.
I realized deeply, in my gut and my heart and my soul, that my time for creating could easily slip away. My very “ness” was at risk. With one kid, you’ve got time. There are naps, there’s after bedtime, there’s whenever Mommy takes him so that I can create. But with two? Nope. That time was waiting to be sucked up. Pooping on different schedules, napping on different schedules, eating at different times? I knew that eventually it would even out (we aren’t there yet) and that I would have some more time to work on my creative endeavours, but I also knew that if I got into the habit of NOT making, then starting again would be very difficult.
So, I decided it was time to invest in inspiration, and not production. The result would be improved productivity, but the intention was simply to steal some time to work for ME. (I mean, all art should be worked on for the artist, right?)
Week 1: Read every morning for 30 minutes before everyone else wakes up. For our house, that meant 5:30. That meant, I needed to get a short haircut and shower at night, instead of in the morning. At 5:30, when I rolled out of bed, I would have 30 minutes to read before Kingsley would be waking up and I would be getting him ready for his day.
Week 2: Continue reading every morning, but keep a sketchbook near by. Inspiration was starting to come by, because I kept showing up … even on the weekend. Inspiration wanted to flirt. (Inspiration is a sassy one!)
Week 3: Back the time up by 10 minutes. This meant I was rolling out of bed by 5:20, and making my way downstairs by 5:25. But, then my book finished. So now what?!
Week 4: Make it 5:15 and work on a list. I made a deal with my critique partner, and told her I would be emailing her on Sunday night with my To Do list for the week. I kept it manageable and interesting: work on this manuscript, work on those thumbnail illustrations, develop ideas for this sequence, etc. Nothing that was too heavy, but something that was meaningful enough to bother with so early in the morning. I also told her I would be checking in again on Friday to let her know how my list went. We agreed that this would NOT include stories – those stories that let you off the hook or excuse laziness. If I didn’t do something, I would say I didn’t, and that would be that.
Week 5: Keeping it at 5:15. Continuing with the list. Making space in my time for reflecting and meditating on myself.
And now, it’s a habit. So I continue to back it up, and will continue doing so until I am at my desk, working, at 5am on the dot.
So that it is all easy and nice to say, but what did I do to really make it work? I had tried in the past and nothing worked. I really think that the pressure I put on myself, to feed my soul, with 2 kids – to keep making and doing and being myself – to find the time and space to do this – to not let go of it – is what pushed me the most.
But these tips … I wish I’d had them before:
Reading something inspiring helped with the first 2 weeks, as I was forming this new habit and setting down the foundation for my new “morning person-ness” (I didn’t let myself read any other time, so I was hungry for it!)
Setting up the night before: I always set the coffee maker and timer now. At first, I even put the mug and spoon out so that all I had to do was pour. You really want to treat yourself and get to know all the little hooks you’ll let yourself off of, so that you can stop it before it happens. Think of it as time travel.
Checking my list the night before. This helps me keep it in my head so that when I wake up, I know what I am about to go and do. There is no sit-and-wonder-which-project-to-work-on time.
Putting out what I’ll need: tomorrow, I’ll be working on wrapping up a chapter of a middle grade novel I am about half way into writing. It is a hard scene and I have told myself stories about it. I realized tonight that it is fear feeding this beastly excuse-making I’ve been doing. Tomorrow, I’m writing. My computer is set up for it, and the file is open and waiting to be written on. On days when I sketch,
I make sure that everything I will need is ready, including WHAT I am sketching. If it’s a painting day, the paint is out and ready. There is no wondering and waiting that happens.
Keeping accountable with a partner who will keep me accountable. (It helps when it is a mutual agreement – it’s nice to be on both sides of the fence/in both roles, so that it feels balanced and your different voices are heard!)
This one is the most important. Weekends are archaic! In parenting world, they are busy and wild and chaotic. If you want to be a morning person, then there is no sleeping in on Saturday.For me, sleeping in means I feel guilty, I feel groggy, and I struggle for a week to get back to waking up early. I may go a bit easier on myself, because I make my To Do lists for Monday-Friday, but I still work on something. At the very least, I am up, breathing and centring and reminding myself that it is going to be a great day.
THIS ONE IS MAYBE MORE IMPORTANT!Sleep according to sleep cycles. I use http://www.sleepyti.me, and I just check it before bed. I want to make sure I’m waking up BETWEEN sleep cycles and not in the middle of. THIS has made the BIGGEST difference to my overall feelings of being awake and refreshed!
Stolen Time is probably the only way to get stuff done if you are busy – busy at work, living a full family life, busy with a million hobbies. Because that is how we do.
Stealing time has been my only strategy to get creative work done. It forces me to be efficient, to spend time on the projects that matter to my heart and soul, and to focus on doing things that I truly, desperately want to do.
Here is how I do it:
I check blog data and share promo stuff when I get into the car, before I put on a Podcast for the drive to/from work. This takes me about 2 minutes and then it’s done. I also do this during lunch breaks, while in waiting rooms, or any other moment that seems too long sit and twiddle my thumbs, but too short (and not the right spot) to get into something big. As I write this, in fact, I am waiting for my students to come in; the gap between when everything is prepped and the bell ringing (about 2 minutes – this post has taken me five different sessions of stolen time, including prolonged bathroom visits, waiting time, and student arrival time).
I jot ideas for new blogs in my drafts section, on my phone app for WordPress – this saves me a lot of think-time when I sit to write, and I can do it in any stolen moment I can find.
I schedule blog posts, Facebook posts and prepare Instagram posts in my camera roll, so that I am not needing to stop and do it throughout the day. You know, having a full time job means you probably shouldn’t be doing that all day long.
I sketch on my lunches (when I can), in the morning while I eat breakfast or before anyone else is up, and in the few quiet moments of a longer-than-expected nap that a kid is having. I try to keep sketch work to medium amounts of time, unless I’m in a sketching season. It’s all very fluid.
I keep a sketchbook nearby so I can jot down ideas and rough thumbnails for when they come. Otherwise, I don’t remember. This helps with momentum, and motivates me to follow up during a bigger chunk of time. I find notebooks are too limiting for my creativity these days, but I keep those around too, for when my ideas become more formal and I want to scratch out sample lines and proes by hand.
I don’t make excuses. I know that if I can sit and watch six episodes of The Gilmore Girls on Friday night, I can steal some of that time and get something done. It might be while I watch, or I might turn off the TV after only two episodes. But no excuses – if I don’t get something done because I was vegging out, then that’s what I did. I realize this tip isn’t in particular about stealing time, but the more time we spend telling stories, the less time we spend making. So – no more stories.
I get up earlier. More on HOW to do this in a future post, but I have found getting up 30-60 minutes earlier than usual (and before everyone else), EVERY DAY, has made my creative work flow, feel more productive, feel more sacred. I am stealing this time from my Sleeping Self, and as a non-morning person, I am so happy that I do this every single day.
I go to bed later. Okay, I am not talking about staying up til midnight if you have to get up at 5. I’m talking about taking the last 30-60 minutes of your normal evening and using that time for something other than TV, scrolling through Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, or whatever else, and use it for good. Read. Sketch. Write. Breathe. But steal that time back.
Stealing time should not include stealing time from family, relationships and yourself. I need to give my whole self to my kids and my wife. I need to give myself a break sometimes. I need to binge-watch GG, mindlessly scroll through Facebook and see what’s up on Twitter. Just not all the time. And again, stealing time doesn’t mean “My kid is playing over there so I can write a blog post while he plays because he isn’t talking to me right now.”
Stolen time has been when my greatest, weirdest, most exciting ideas have surfaced. I highly encourage you to steal a bit of time, too.
How do you steal time? Let me know in the comments, by email or on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter!
Did you know that I’m on Instagram? I’m also on Facebook and have a website – you can even sign up for my newsletter there! You can email me at email@example.com. Please like, follow and share my posts if you’re feeling them, and have a creative day!
My family came over yesterday to celebrate Thanksgiving. It was raining, so we couldn’t eat outside like we’d hoped, and we couldn’t have a camp fire, like we’d hoped. But we did have a kitchen loaded with all of the best food, so we ate. It’s one of the things we do well.
During dinner, we shared our gratitudes. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you might know that Stephanie and I share our gratitudes on a nightly basis before we eat. When we have guests over, we sometimes ask them to share their gratitudes as well. At Thanksgiving, for the past three years, we have insisted that my parents, brothers and sister join in the fun. This has become a tradition, and the gratitudes have become so meaningful over the course of the few years we’ve done it. Something happens when you share a heartfelt gratitude with family: you reveal parts of yourself that may not be obvious on a daily basis.
And the most amazing thing happened. Kingsley has never has shown any understanding of this practice we do nightly – we always ask and he never responds, as if we never said anything to him in the first place. Sometimes, he says, “Yeah.” I expected that tonight.
Everyone was looking at him. He looked out to everyone, HUGE SMILE, and said very clearly:
“I’m grateful … for … supper!”
TEARS! I’m a mess! But it was AMAZING!!! (I mean, first of all a full sentence?! AND it made sentence and it was a legitimate, logical gratitude!!!!! I was in a state of shock. A state of love-filled, joyful, proud and excited shock.
And so from our weird, wonderful family to yours – Happy Thanksgiving.
A long time ago (probably not that long ago) I thought that big people taught little people.
That was wrong. Very wrong.
The things worth knowing – the most important things – I’m learning from the little people.
Joy. I’m looking for what makes me feel this uninhibited joy now. And it feels good.
Curiosity. Playfulness. Mistakes. How to learn. They’re so connected and they’re so important. At school, in my art, as I write. Setting aside the critical gremlins and blissfully making stuff (up) is opening new sides of my creativity.
Persistence. He repeats himself until he is heard. He tries and tries and tries. And I’m learning the power of true persistence through his learning.
Love. Loving without question, without expectation of anything in return. Loving people and animals and places and activities. Love, love, love. It feels good.
Truth. Honesty. Saying the things that make you happy and excited and joyful, loud and clear for all to hear. Being kind in this honest truth, and letting yourself feel. This. We need more of this in our lives!
How different might this world be if all of the big people listened, watched and learned more from the little people? How much more beautiful would our days be? How much more honest and true would our writing be? How much more of ourselves would shine through our art?
I am so grateful for having two pure humans at home to teach me.