Sometimes you have to acknowledge you are what holds you back
If you looked at my messy hair and sometimes messy house, you wouldn’t think at all that I suffered with perfectionism. Increasingly we see a world where we are surrounded by perfect. Whether it’s facetune or show- home-style houses, I have probably seen a hundred images to show me perfect in the last day.
Even though we are savvy to the filter of social media influence, it still does effect our perspective on what we believe is achievable. These are really just a few ways that we say to ourselves, perfect is possible. Some weeks there are just small things I do to keep my head above water (and that was before this global crisis.)
I was writing recently about goals and how for some people it is freeing to say “Dare to be average”. What I understand David Burns means by this is not actually do a poor job, instead do the job as it needs to be done. So rather than procrastinating because we cannot do it perfectly, we get the job done well enough. Compared to a job not done, average is suddenly above average!
I think this relates well to one of my creative blocks. Realising that perfectionism is hampering my productivity. To the point, at many times in my life I haven’t written at all. Though it was a passion as a young child, two short stories were rejected at 20 and I didn’t write again until I was 30. That’s a pretty devastating consequence of perfectionism.
Brené Brown writes that perfectionism is a way of avoiding anyone else’s judgement. This has been a real revelation for me. We actually try and protect ourselves using perfectionism as a tool to mitigate shame. The shame for me is I will never achieve my ambition, or I will achieve publishing something and it will be terrible or even one person will read my work and think it is terrible. The worst piece of writing ever written. Or, they will laugh when it’s scary, recoil when it’s funny. And if all these thoughts preoccupy my imperfect morning pages, it’s a wonder I start at all!
The whole point of Mum, Write NOW in shouty capitals is to remind me, today is as good a day as ever. It doesn’t always work to motivate me. But it reminds me to plod on, to tackle my perfectionism with the work.
Feeling bereft without Artist Dates, I started my day with some craft.
Last year when I embarked on The Artist’s Way programme, I was struggling to fit in my weekly Artist Dates that Julia Cameron recommends. A chance to nurture yout inner artist, she prescribes two hours a week as a designated date. It was hard to give myself the time to do it and I felt like it took longer to go to a museum or exhibition. To encourgage myself and others, I made a list of cheap and easy things to do as an Artist Date. Novelty and curiosity are the main things I need.
Well since then I haven’t been diligent at observing the practice, I admit. The main thing I have tried is cooking new things but I haven’t pushed myself. And all of a sudden, with my options limited by social- distancing rules, I am feeling a little bereft of creative outlets.
We were discussing in our work support group this week that there are many ways to give our brains a break from the collective trauma we are living through. Being creative may be one way to help your mind adjust to the extreme shifts of life most of us are going through. I have no psychological training so I won’t prescribe creativity if you are really struggling. But if you do feel well enough, trying your hand at something creative may help.
As well as origami, I have seen these ideas on Pinterest of cute animal collages. It was so interesting paying attention to my inner critic. I am not a visual artist though I enjoy craft. I journalled after and felt intrigued about how many emotions came up for me. I worried for example that it was a childish activity, and that the results were poor.
But if you can overcome thoughts that distract your art. Here’s a how to for a collage cat.
Four types of paper, a page ripped from two publications and two different lined notebooks
Markers or maybe paint
Using basic shapes I created a cat based on this Pinterest tutorial.
I drew the shape on one sheet, then using those as a template copied the shape onto one other of the types of paper.
Playing around with the order of the shapes, I stuck them together on a dark background
To finish I used a highlighter pen to colour my cat in. Then, and this was the hardest bit, drew in the features.
Tackling the inner critic
Sharing my work, (which I don’t particularly rate though think it’s cute), has brought up my inner critic to the fore. One good thing about playing in a different medium than you’re used to is your standards for what you expect of yourself are much lower. And so almost,(almost) I can feel less fear about sharing. In fact it may even be more useful to observe what holds you back when you try something completely new. You hear very quickly the inner saboteur voice, her opinion is much louder and less insidious when you have little expertise. She will tell you what you have done wrong clearly, rather than blocking you from writing.
I found this such a productive Artist Date, I am definitely going to insist on this time in the coming weeks. And when we are safe again, appreciate more the chance to go further afield.
Don’t worry, I am not going to sell you charcoal or cider vinegar…although my suggestion may be worse: is it time to take a digital and reading detox?
I avoided this step when it came up on week 8 of The Artist’s Way programme but I knew I would give in eventually. I have already been monitoring my time on social media with a phone app. But giving up reading too? Hadn’t one of the reasons I reduced my screen time been to make time to read?
According to Julia Cameron the reading detox is the section her attendees moan about the most. Since the book The Artist’s Way was published, she has also updated the detox to say no digital media consumption.
The idea is instead of going online or reading, you allow your brain to go
other places. Hopefully creative places. Here’s what I did during a week detox:
Puzzles, crosswords and also a jigsaw with my son. I suppose when I started the week I was optimistic that I would have quiet time but when it came to it I still found I needed busy work. Down time is so important to me that I did not find I could launch into a new project straight away. In the quiet moments I got out a puzzle book or finished a jigsaw my son had walked away from,
Craft project more to come on this, but I started learning about book binding. I used to have a lot more craft supplies in the house but since clearing the clutter I have admitted that a lot of the craft supplies hanging about the house were more ambitions that actualities so I just have basic tools. I found this frustrating that I had to go out and buy new things to make craft happen but when space is a premium, you can’t keep everything arty in case inspiration strikes once every five years.
Wrote but only a little. I was too tired to really use the
time for writing which may seem like an excuse, but we are coming off some busy
weekends, a birthday and a child with a cold, sleeping even less than normal.
Maybe then the “detox” was not as inspirational as it could be because I could
not summon the energy to do much.
Napped: this feels embarrassing to admit and gives stay-at-home parents a bad name but I rested in the afternoon twice in the week. As I mentioned my sleep has been poor and this means I have to be realistic about what I can achieve in the limited time I do have to myself.
Worried My phone is a major distraction from the overactive part of my brain. But what is odd is that I found it a relief to be away from the News and stress-inducing social media. Unfortunately, my brain just worried about other things, so I had to combat the feelings with a lot of journaling. I think that this has highlighted to me how much I need to return to meditation and relaxation because without my usual distraction it was often quite hard to quiet my mind.
Missed Out: but only a little. There was some people’s news shared on Facebook and I didn’t see, some sad, some happy and I felt bad not to have commented. We are all so out of the habit of calling people I suppose I may not have learned this news other ways. I did take the opportunity to catch up with a couple of my closest friends on the phone.
Binged TV at some point it was inevitable that I would give in to the TV. I am not sure whether it is just synchronicity or my current questions that brought me to Mr Robot. But, that’s going to help you really re-evaluate your relationship with social media even if the conspiracy thriller also leaves you a little paranoid.
And finally I….Cheated I am not going to say I was totally offline all week. I certainly didn’t manage without TV. I also posted on my blog and ended up on Twitter to share the post. Then I went down an Instagram rabbit hole after a Real Housewives story came up on my Google homepage. Finally, someone was leaving from my old work and so I had to use Messenger to join in the chat. But still I reduced my use to just a few hours in a week.
So, would I say that a detox increased my creativity?
Not really, but I would say that it has made me stop and re-evaluate. I logged out of the apps on my phone so I have left them like that so that it takes some effort and a conscious decision to use them. I also realised that I was using my phone in particular to distract myself. Although I have written about it being a great tool, maybe I need to use it less. I came back to reading with a lot more enthusiasm and I think that this shows this is a much greater priority for me than social media.
I would love to know if anyone else has tried a reading and digital detox? Did it help your creative brain?
I have been dreading the end of The Artist’s Way programme, so how do I learn to say goodbye?
This is the blog I have been putting off writing, you may have noticed I have been writing my guides to doing the steps on The Artist’s Way Programme. This is partly because I think the Morning Pages and taking Artist’s Dates have been helpful, I also think I have been avoiding the inevitable, coming to the end.
As the final week ends, I am reflecting on the resistance that I feel to ending the whole process. This mirrors my continual revising of the ending of the book I am writing, which of course changes the start I come up with and continues the process of drafting for evermore. This may just be the way I write, though I would like to think that there may be a time where I am confident in the writing a story I have plotted, I have a feeling my tangents are part of my process. So why are ending so hard?
Change is the only constant, for one.
I had the opportunity to test out how difficult endings can be, I learnt that someone from my son’s school whole family had moved away over the Summer. As is typical, we had not seen them in the holidays, but I am sure my son would have been happy to see their little boy in his class again, as they have been in school together for the last three years. When I learnt the news, and that they had had to go with no notice, I was shocked. It threw me completely and I think I was far more upset than my son at the change.
I have a history of finding goodbyes challenging and have left schools suddenly myself, so I am sure like a lot of things, this linked back to childhood fears. Saying goodbye is something is you learn to do over and over. So I called the family and also helped out a little here. It felt good to get closure on this phase of my son’s life as well as my own. And I got some satisfaction that I was a good friend on his behalf. I think stopping to acknowledge parts of your life that are changing is very important. That this happened as I finished the programme is something the author Julia Cameron would call synchronicity and I am inclined to agree.
I know as I step off the cliff from the comfort of the programme, I have to carry on writing my pages and using Artist’s Dates. But I also have to get the work done. That is not to say that I will not revisit the programme or dip into the exercises but in a sense, I have done this programme all the way through for the first time. That should be celebrated. Early on in the book, Cameron says a lot of people drop out or resist the programme which in the main part I haven’t. Although I did avoid the digital and reading detox in week eight. I am in fact coming back to it now and will report back soon.
So, it must be acknowledged, I did it! I have found ways to adopt pages into morning although sometimes it means I snap at those around me to leave me alone. I notice if I have a bad day, I will find I haven’t done my pages in the morning. It’s become an essential lifeline. I can also say that I am writing though still not as regularly as I like. The next steps are making the goals into tangible steps and using the #last90days of the decade to really finish what I started. With this in mind, I have a new writing planner on excel including blogging schedules: mundane but necessary to try and use the time I do have to work efficiently.
But the goal of the final week of the programme is to “Recover a Sense of Faith.”And that means being surer that your life will lead you to where you need to be if you continue to work towards what you want. I am still uncertain, of course, but I think I approach doing my work with more confidence than before. And I think having insight into my resistance was a great way to uncover things for me. As I don’t like endings, as is clear, I will leave the post I didn’t want to write on a quote from this chapter:
“Life is meant to be an artist
date. That’s why we were created.“
I would love to know if anyone else has completed The Artist’s Way programme, do you still use it, has it changed your life?
Although a divine experience for an Artist might be a night at the ballet or spending a weekend away, just you and your journal, for most of us this isn’t an option. Julia Cameron suggests in The Artist’s Way that we spend two hours a week nurturing our Artist. Here are some great Artist Dates you could try that are free (or pretty cheap) and you can even bring your little one along for the ride.
1. JOURNAL ART Talking of journalling, I took the chance to learn some lettering. I’ll never own a beautiful bullet journal but even I can play with titles and doodles
2. DOODLE Speaking of art, Cameron also encourages you to draw. I have little talent in this area but I have challenged myself to sit to my ideas and doodle about them. The pictures were poor, but the expression still engaged my mind and made me laugh.
3. MIND MAPS I was taught to use these at school to revise. I am still not sure if they helped me connect the dots about science and history: my grades at the time I suppose were fine, but can I remember it now. But using a mind map whether to track your hopes for the future or plan out bold new ideas can be helpful and creative
4. COOK SOMETHING Particularly something new. I have been reflecting on food memories recently and dug deep to think about things I loved as a child. But if nothing else you can basically put any ingredients you have into Pinterest and come up with a recipe. It doesn’t have to be fancy, I recently made microwave mac ‘n’ cheese. This may not suit your tastes but I was delighted with the ease of it.
5. BUY FRUIT I recently taught my picky eater about pomegranate. This is a relatively inexpensive buy at our local market. Given he despises pips in fruit this was a minor triumph. Talking about it, even looking up how to cut it was interesting and new. And that’s got to to be a kick start for creativity.
6. SHOP FOR FOOD AT A MARKET So the overpriced sourdough rosemary loaf was not free and fives times the price of normal bread, but it was divine. Wandering around any foodie market counts too because smells can transport you to other worlds. Like a Chai stall taking me back to my trip to India.
7. BAKE BREAD Alright so my banana and pumpkin seed bread turned more into a stodgy cake but this is one I will definitely try again. To make a traditional loaf is my next challenge. It feels bold and I doubt I have the proper patience but anything that takes such concentration and effort while also yielding results quickly has got to be good for my inner artist.
8. LISTEN TO MUSIC Online is a great place to find anything and if you happen to want do a deep dive on Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring you can spend hours listening with your eyes closed to the Philharmonic of your choice. This was another easy one I could do one evening so didn’t need childcare but was very inspiring
9. STAY SILENT I tried this one while I cleaned. No podcast, no cleaning video and no music on in the background. I didn’t particularly enjoy this one but I did notice that I really concentrated on the cleaning, finally removing a stain on the stairs carpet so there was that.
10. TREE-BATHING A practice from Japan, that has become popular – shinrin-yoku – spending time with trees can be very relaxing. As I understand it this can be as simple as walking in the trees in your neighbourhood. This one is an easy one for me as we have a large Royal park on our doorstep and I could take my son along too. Trees are always inspiring and the air is good for your health.
13. PINTEREST Make something, not just pin something you have seen. I choose a project about the lunar cycles to do with my son. This is more practical for me as I can’t always be alone. It engaged him well but best of all we were proud of ourselves and pinned it on the fridge.
14. USE THE INTERNET This could be a disaster and a distraction but it might be worth the risk. I am not sure it’s what Cameron had in mind, but after many joyful hours finding Broadway tunes online and reading about shows I hadn’t seen, I included this one on my easy-to-do list
15.BROWSE BOOKSHELVES This may be an obvious one but I have been taking more mindful trips to the library. Browsing books in different genre and reading a few pages about Japanese flower arranging before I realised I was too impatient to take up the practise. It’s the browsing that fires up your creativity.
16. CHARITY SHOP BOOKS There are so many great reads at charity shops. As I wrote here, it’s one of my favourite places to find a book bargain.
17. SPOTTING COLOURS This is a favourite that I can do in charity shop too. Looking everywhere for pale mint and aqua that are my “signature colours” I spotted them then in other places, like the chemist signs and a pretty shopping bag. This can just be a game and again one you might do with a young one in tow.
18. COLOURING IN My son doesn’t really like that I have my own set of Sharpies in pastel colours that he is not allowed to touch, but there you go. A few years back I gave in to the craze for colouring in. I recently got an Autumnal book in a bargain bin at the Works as I think they are less popular as a past-time than a while back. I like it as an activity to occupy my hands instead of my smartphone which I am trying to use less often.
19. PLAYDOH is another one to get out when you have a little one around, he doesn’t seem to mind that I cut out flowers and cute animals while he makes letters or planets (much more his thing)
20. LEAF-COLLECTING This is my favourite Autumn activity and a little different from tree-bathing where you are just silently contemplating them. There are games to be played with the perfect leaf, spotting different shades of colour. I don’t feel the need to have a child along for me for this one, I think secretly everyone understands the impulse to pocket the perfect horse chestnut.
I think the main thing is to approach any Artist’s Date with a sense of play. Part way through the programme, Cameron advises you get used to taking mini-breaks. I think I have had to be quite creative and often take my son too so it is important to acknowledge these simple things can help inspire you too. While it is great to line up trips away, perhaps trying a new class or visiting a new museum, there are easy and cheap things you can do at home too.
You can catch up on my weeks on The Artist’s Way programme here: