Tomorrow, I start my Month of Mindfulness with a creative exercise every day. I’m ready to start creating!
Vacation can be difficult, in our family. My husband and I are both hard workers, so relaxing doesn’t come naturally to us. We have to work at it, just like we work at everything else. Starting yesterday, Aaron and I have the entire week off together. While we may have to work a few hours here and there, we can spend the rest of the week with each other doing fun things. Like good hard workers, we made a list of all the fun things that we want to do. Visits to wineries and museums! Day trips to the North Shore! Fun!!!
Relaxing into vacation wasn’t something that we had on our to-do lists, but it should have been. Yesterday didn’t turn out exactly as we had hoped. Everything took longer and was more expensive than we had planned. Worst of all, we got a traffic ticket on the way to the museum. (Luckily, the very nice officer noticed that we had a Pikachu toy hanging from our rear view mirror and he said that even though it was illegal, the Pokemon was on him.) We scrapped the museum and felt like vacation was just too hard for people like us.
But then, we shifted. We took a two hour walk through our city, starting at our house and ending up at the Midtown Global Market to watch the last 15 minutes of the Brazil-Chile World Cup game. I ate a heavenly Watermelon Italian ice in a homemade waffle cone. Then, we picked through Uncle Hugo’s and Uncle Edgar’s, a conjoined nerd-heaven of fantasy/sci-fi and mystery/horror books. It was fun, but it still wasn’t vacation yet.
Then, yesterday evening we checked our to-do list and realized that the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board was presenting a free movie at Audubon Park in Northeast Minneapolis. We went early to secure our seats, and realized that no one else arrives two hours early for a free movie in the park.
Yet, by arriving early we laid on our blanket together and watched people play softball. We read at dusk. We were able to see magic hour at the park, when everything turns hazy golden. We turned golden, with the sun on our skin. Together, we relaxed. For the rest of the evening, we shared chocolate and garlic popcorn and watched a fun movie. We were surrounded by strangers who were mostly like us, couples snuggled under blankets, sharing snacks. Thankfully, vacation finally started for us.
To say that I’ve been in a creative slump is an understatement. The truth is that I’ve been unmotivated in my creative work since April. In these few months, everything has zeroed out: poems, photography, collages, even this blog. It’s almost July and I don’t have much creative product from the spring or early summer. I cringe when I write this, because I’ve been training myself to think of my creativity as a process, not a product. (Hence the blog title, after all.) But, if I’m being truly honest with myself, I have totally opted out of my process. I am derailed.
I know how my slump started: a very specific work stressor initiated my decline. When I’m stressed, I run from any creative work. To me, this is counter to everything I know about my creativity. I know that when I’m creating, I am happier and healthier. I know that it’s not about my output, but about my well-being. Yet, whenever I encounter stress, I steep myself in the stressor. I live, breathe, and eat the stress. Then, whenever I have free time, I look for anything that numbs my brain. I turn to television, obsessive reading, and other “relaxation” techniques.
This is (of course) a self-fulfilling cycle for me. The more absorbed I become in my stress, the less I create. The less I create, the less aware I become and my stress level increases. Stress-retreat-stress-retreat. When I’m deep in this cycle, I feel less than myself. I feel like a shell of who I really am. In my creative-brain, I know that I can break this cycle by forcing myself to create. But, in my stress-brain, creating seems like another to-do list item. Wouldn’t it be much more fun to read *another* paperback mystery instead?
Rather than saying that this cycle ends today, because I know it will most likely return, I am saying that I am starting over today. I am choosing to take charge of my creative life again, not because it’s another thing on my to-do list, but because I need regular creative practice in my life.
Yesterday, I realized that I needed a project to jump me out of my creative slump. After all, I work best with projects and deadlines. I thought that one way I could jumpstart my creative practice is by working through a month-long creative intensive that I write myself. The intensive would mainly include creativity exercises in my various mediums, just so that I could get back into the practice of creating. Since I have a vacation that starts on Monday, I am starting this class on Wednesday, July 1.
Once I had this brainstorm, I realized that I already have the theme: mindfulness. I’ve been reading lately about mindfulness, mainly through The Miracle of Mindfulness and Resonant Leadership. Considering my stress cycle, mindfulness and awareness seem like the perfect theme. What better way to stop numbing myself than to focus intently on cultivating my awareness?
My 31-day intensive will focus on the following areas:
- Committing to Mindfulness (Day 1)
- Sight Awareness (Days 2-6)
- Sound Awareness (Days 7-11)
- Scent and Taste Awareness (Days 12-16)
- Body Awareness (Days 17-21)
- Self Awareness (Days 22-26)
- Moving Forward Mindfully (Days 27-31)
(Please note that I am using the words “mindfulness” and “awareness” interchangeably.)
For each day, I am going to post a brief exercise. I may not post every exercise result, but I am committing to trying each exercise.
To be honest, I am panicking now that I am writing this down. I know this is something that I need to do, but I’m so nervous about starting something this ambitious. Therefore, I am giving myself permission to try something new. Whenever I try something new, there is the threat of failure. But there is the possibility of success and the hope of achieving something new. Even if I fail, it’s better than the drifting I’m doing right now.
He says that if you live each moment anticipating the next, then you are not truly living. (I am not living from moment to moment to moment.)
Right now, I am writing and watching television and breathing. (There is a ceiling fan on, circling above me.)
Earlier today, I made quilts in pieces. Together, we cut and ironed. Cut and ironed. (I loved the peacefulness of ironing seams straight, until I noticed my calm.)
At almost every moment, my mind is grinding along, chewing through thoughts: song lyrics, memories, worries, hopes for the future. (Even when I sleep, I can feel the hum.)
Before the event, I am awaiting its start, imagining how it will feel. After the event, I am remembering. (I don’t know what I’m doing during.)
Two weeks ago today, I was five feet away from a musician performing his song. His whole body rocketed through the rhythm, even when his eyes were closed. (While I watched, I wondered what he was thinking.)
I want to be the ceiling fan, the iron, the notes in a song, my breath. (I want the comfort of a repeating system, the calm of a quiet mind.)
I wrote this on my vacation to Cambridge, Mass., based on a line from a keynote speaker at my brother’s graduation. It is not finished, because I desperately have to think more about my line breaks. But I also want to put it up, because it’s frankly the first non-awful thing I’ve written in a while. So please, bear with the in-progress-ness of this piece.
In This Complicated World
No one talks for themselves.
Instead, we interpret
through a complex combination
of gesture and intonation, silence
and pointed looks. We translate
each other’s movements.
We say: You are hungry,
therefore we should find food.
We ignore our own empty
stomachs. We say, You really wanted
to do this or that, without
waiting for reply. Then, we do
this or that, hoping to please
the other. We are never
successful. Even after years
of studying eye narrowing, teeth
sucking and sighs, we miss
the real clues. We all live our lives
unsatisfied, hoping to find
more adept translators. In this
complicated world, I still love you
even if you never receive
all my silent messages.
…and you should too.
Listen, because I don’t have much time. It’s 3:45 and I have to catch a bus at 4:10, which is a ridiculously early time to catch a bus. Especially, since I went to bed at 12:45, after spending my whole night at the Evelyn Evelyn concert. I just wanted to urge you to catch this show if it’s still coming to your town.
Here’s the deal: it’s a three-hour show, with performances by the insane & brilliant Sxip Shirey, the enigmatic Evelyn Evelyn twins, an ecstatic Jason Webley and the epic Amanda Palmer. It has puppetry, conjoined divination, music played on penny whistles, drinking songs, and one ukulele. If you care about theater, poetry, music, independent art, or American creativity, you should see this show.
Because I live in Minneapolis, the show featured a reading and signing by Neil Gaiman, as you can see above. It was the best $18 per ticket I’ve spent in a long time. Please go see this show.
I woke up yesterday with an image in my head. It was of one of the pictures I took the day before with the word “illuminate” hovering above it. I knew almost immediately that this image was my new journal cover. I got to work.
I’ve been making my own journal covers since college. I always start with the same raw materials – a Mead 5X7 Academie Sketch Pad and an idea. Once I have those two tools in place, I begin collaging/painting/assembling the new journal. I figure that I go through 2-3 journals a year. That means that between my bookcases and storage spaces, I have approximately (conservatively) 36 journals.
I don’t know if I ever fill my journals, cover to cover. I use them as my primary repository of my poems in their early drafts. Once I have a typed version of the poem (around 2-3 drafts in), I make all future changes on the computer. Every so often, I use my journals for free writing, complaining, or recording. Mostly, they are for my poems.
I use a single journal until it’s either three-quarters full or when I need a shift in my writer’s practice. Or both. Once I recognize the need for a new journal, I wait for the journal image to arrive. Or, as it did yesterday, my image arrives first. Once I realized I had an idea, I flipped through my current journal and realized that it was time for a change. It was around 60% full and the cover didn’t seem appropriate any longer.
Like most of my journals, the cover of my last journal was central to who I was at the time I made it. It was one week post-surgery and I was barely hobbling around our one bedroom condo on crutches. The image was of a small, dark-haired girl sitting at a desk. Next to her, I wrote, “Today, she thought it best to stay inside.” Six months later, this no longer fits me. I am walking 30-60 minutes a day outside. I am no longer retreating and waiting to heal. I am recovered. Though I didn’t know it the day before, it was time for a new journal.
When I look at the covers from all of my previous journals, I remember more who I was at the time of its use, rather than what I wrote. I have a general sense of the poems, sure, but I more accurately picture my life at the time. I can also think of a time in my life and recall (somewhat accurately) the journal I was using at the time. Whenever I dig through my old journals, which is rare, I touch each cover and remember what that time in my life was like. Then, I flip through the pages to reread the poems.
Right now, my new journal blank. And that blankness is scary to me, because each new journal is a promise and a dare. It’s a promise that I make to my continued writing practice and a dare to fill its pages. With each new journal, I have a small, lingering fear that this may be the last. I may never fill it with anything good or anything at all. But then, I remember all the journals I have filled and I begin filling the pages.