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Posts from the ‘For Artists’ Category

Make Magic Happen

I love these words from Lisa Congdon, they ring so true, and might inspire you as well.

“With effort, we can make magic happen. Contrary to what most people think, making magic requires discipline. You must exert effort to become a better artist, athlete, musician, writer, communicator, student, fill-in-the-blank. Some of the most incredible ideas never turned to magic because the person who had them never took action. But when you take action on your ideas and dreams, your efforts can lead to magic — stuff that transforms lives, disrupts the status quo, changes the conversation, shifts mind-sets, and offers comfort and connection to those who need it most. Don’t wait around. Make magic happen.”

Creative Wisdom: Big Magic

If you are called to creative work, this book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, may be the best you will ever read. I always reference this book since I initially read it in 2015; I sometimes just flip to a random page, which always provides sage and timely advice. Below are some of my favorite quotes to ponder.

“Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates an uncertain outcome.”

“This, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?”

“When I refer to “creative living,” I am speaking more broadly. I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.”

“A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner — continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you — is a fine art, in and of itself.”

“Creativity is a path for the brave, yes, but it is not a path for the fearless, and it’s important to recognize the distinction.”

“If you can’t learn to travel comfortably alongside your fear, then you’ll never be able to go anywhere interesting or do anything interesting.”

“You have treasures hidden within you — extraordinary treasures — and so do I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small.”

“Most of all, be ready. Keep your eyes open. Listen. Follow your curiosity. Ask questions. Sniff around. Remain open. Trust in the miraculous truth that new and marvelous ideas are looking for human collaborators every single day. Ideas of every kind are constantly galloping toward us, constantly passing through us, constantly trying to get our attention.”

“In the end, creativity is a gift to the creator, not just a gift to the audience.”

“So I don’t sit around waiting to write until my genius decides to pay me a visit. If anything, I have come to believe that my genius spends a lot of time waiting around for me — waiting to see if I’m truly serious about this line of work.”

“Often what keeps you from creative living is your self-absorption (your self-doubt, your self-disgust, your self-judgment, your crushing sense of self-protection).”

“You must be willing to take risks if you want to live a creative existence. But if you’re going to gamble, know that you are gambling. Never roll the dice without being aware that you are holding a pair of dice in your hands. And make certain that you can actually cover your bets (both emotionally and financially).”

“Of course it’s difficult to create things; if it wasn’t difficult, everyone would be doing it, and it wouldn’t be special or interesting.”

“I promised that I would never ask writing to take care of me financially, but that I would always take care of it — meaning that I would always support us both, by any means necessary.”

“It’s a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at.”

“Learning how to endure your disappointment and frustration is part of the job of a creative person.”

“Frustration is not an interruption of your process; frustration is the process. The fun part (the part where it doesn’t feel like work at all) is when you’re actually creating something wonderful, and everything’s going great, and everyone loves it, and you’re flying high. But such instances are rare. You don’t just get to leap from bright moment to bright moment. How you manage yourself between those bright moments, when things aren’t going so great, is a measure of how devoted you are to your vocation, and how equipped you are for the weird demands of creative living.”

“People don’t do this kind of thing because they have all kinds of extra time and energy for it; they do this kind of thing because their creativity matters to them enough that they are willing to make all kinds of extra sacrifices for it.”

“The essential ingredients for creativity remain exactly the same for everybody: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust — and those elements are universally accessible. Which does not mean that creative living is always easy; it merely means that creative living is always possible.”

“Perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear. I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified.”

“Possessing a creative mind, after all, is something like having a border collie for a pet: It needs to work, or else it will cause you an outrageous amount of trouble.”

“Completion is a rather honorable achievement in its own right. What’s more, it’s a rare one. Because the truth of the matter is, most people don’t finish things! Look around you, the evidence is everywhere: People don’t finish. They begin ambitious projects with the best of intentions, but then they get stuck in a mire of insecurity and doubt and hairsplitting . . . and they stop.”

“The effort is worth it, because when at last you do connect, it is an otherworldly delight of the highest order. Because this is how it feels to lead the faithful creative life: You try and try and try, and nothing works. But you keep trying, and you keep seeking, and then sometimes, in the least expected place and time, it finally happens. You make the connection. Out of nowhere, it all comes together.”

“The final — and sometimes most difficult — act of creative trust is to put your work out there into the world once you have completed it.”

“Fierce trust asks you to stand strong within this truth: You are worthy, dear one, regardless of the outcome. You will keep making your work, regardless of the outcome. You will keep sharing your work, regardless of the outcome. You were born to create, regardless of the outcome. You will never lose trust in the creative process, even when you don’t understand the outcome.”

What would you do if you knew that you could not fail?

Self-Care That’s Free!

Happy almost weekend! I hope that your summer is going well! If you are in need of some self-care this weekend, the image below provides some fun ideas. My favorite, “petting a dog,” always does wonders for all of us, and Victory loves us to love on her, always!

The time is flying here. We recently had fun celebrating Alex’s birthday and spending time together; and my parents also came to visit, and it was nice to spend time with them! I soon hope to catch up on editing our family photos in my spare time, which is always so elusive. Happy Friday!

Image by Jessica Olien.

Thoughts on Creativity

About a year ago, Ethan Hawke gave Ted Talk about creativity, and this part was particularly insightful…

Do you think human creativity matters? Well, hmm. Most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about poetry. Right? They have a life to live, and they’re not really that concerned with Allen Ginsberg’s poems or anybody’s poems, until their father dies, they go to a funeral, you lose a child, somebody breaks your heart, they don’t love you anymore, and all of a sudden, you’re desperate for making sense out of this life, and, ‘Has anybody ever felt this bad before? How did they come out of this cloud?’

Or the inverse — something great. You meet somebody and your heart explodes. You love them so much, you can’t even see straight. You know, you’re dizzy. ‘Did anybody feel like this before? What is happening to me?’ And that’s when art’s not a luxury, it’s actually sustenance. We need it.

You can take a listen here.

Speaking of poems, I love ‘Our Union’ by Hafiz, shown below.

Our union is like this: You feel cold, so I reach for a blanket to cover our shivering feet.

A hunger comes into your body, so I run to my garden and start digging potatoes.

You asked for a few words of comfort and guidance, and I quickly kneel by your side offering you a whole book as a gift.

You ache with loneliness one night so much you weep, and I say here is a rope, tie it around me, I will be your companion for life.

Sparking More Creativity

One of my favorite things about watching my daughter, Alex, play is that it reminds me how much creativity lies within each one of us — we were born as creative people, whether we have cultivated that into adulthood or not. At two, almost three, Alex becomes totally immersed in building with her Legos and Magnatiles and she continually surprises me with the connections he makes between ideas that would never have occurred to my adult mind. Her natural free play is in stark contrast to the productivity-focused mindset I usually default to.

It has got me thinking about how amazing it would be if this creative spark were brought into our adult lives. I am learning that reclaiming our creativity could actually be a big factor in discovering our passion, finding out what makes us feel most alive, and even being better at our work. Below are some possible ways you can be more creative every day!

Draw, paint, doodle, watercolor

The sheer act of engaging in making art, of any kind, fires up all kinds of connections in the brain, so do not fight the urge to doodle while you are on your next conference call. I have been spending time coloroing with Alex, and it has been very refreshing!

Do something physical

Research has shown that physical exercise helps to force you out of left brain dominant thinking and instead adopt a more creative mindset. Exercise also increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain, which sharpen mental clarify. Here is a fascinating article that claims aerobic workouts may help stimulate imagination and new ideas.

Embrace boredom

I recently did a two day detox from my devices, and one of my biggest goals for the experiment was to learn how to embrace boredom. Why, you may ask? Because research shows that being bored actually propels us towards deeper thinking and creativity. The theory goes that a bored mind searches for stimulation, which moves it into the daydreaming state, which leads to new ideas. Read more about the studies here.

Instead of filling every extra minute with productivity or scrolling through your phone, give your mind some breathing room. Let your mind wander, and who knows, you just might have the “aha moment!”

Watch a TED talk or listen to a podcast

I often find that tuning into a powerful TED talk or listening to an interview with someone fascinating is a great way to shift my perspective, quickly and without a lot of effort. There are so many inspiring people out there, and nothing makes me more excited about creative thinking than learning from someone who is out there truly innovating in their field.

Make time for play

Studies show that when we fully immerse ourself in just doing what we enjoy — in other words, getting out of our own heads — it stimulates outside-the-box thinking and silences our inner critic. Tinker with toys, build something, get outside…and most importantly, think like a kid!

Juggling Act

I came across this really interesting concept relating to juggling work and kids. Someone asked Nora Roberts how to balance writing and kids, and she said that the key to juggling is to know that some of the balls you have in the air are made of plastic and some are made of glass. And, if you drop a plastic ball, it bounces, no harm done. If you drop a glass ball, it shatters, so you have to know which balls are glass and which are plastic and prioritize catching the glass ones. Nora was not talking about juggling five balls. She was talking about juggling 55 balls. The balls don’t represent “family” or “work.” There are separate balls for everything that goes into each of those categories. “Deadline on project Y” or “crazy sock day at school.”

And her point was not to “prioritize kids over work.” It was some kid stuff is glass and some is plastic, and sometimes, to catch a glass work ball, you have to drop a plastic family one, and that is okay. And the reverse is also true. Sometimes, to catch a glass kid ball, something at work has to slide, and that is okay, too. If you are juggling 55 balls, some are going to drop, so you have to focus not on broad categories, but on the glass balls.

This concept was so freeing for me. You don’t have to find perfect balance; and I do not think that balance truly exists, as things are constantly changing and shifting daily. I just have to try to figure out which balls are okay to drop on any given day, the plastic ones, and catch the glass ones before they break. Sometimes, things just slip, and we can give ourselves grace, and try again the following day!

What is Grit?

You might already be familiar with Angela Duckworth’s relatively recent book, titled, “Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” along with her TED Talk, which has been viewed over 23 million times.

So, what is “Grit?” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, grit in the context of behavior is defined as “firmness of character; indomitable spirit.” Duckworth, based on her studies, tweaked this definition to be “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” 

However, Duckworth’s research is conducted in the context of exceptional performance and success in the traditional sense, so requires it be measured by test scores, degrees, and medals over an extended period of time. Specifically, she explores this question, talent and intelligence/IQ being equal: why do some individuals accomplish more than others? The characteristics of grit, outlined below, include Duckworth’s findings as well as some that defy measurement.

Courage

While courage is difficult to measure, it is directly proportional to your level of grit. More specifically, your ability to manage fear of failure is imperative and a predicator of success. The supremely gritty are not afraid to tank, but rather embrace it as part of a process. They understand that there are valuable lessons in defeat and that the vulnerability of perseverance is requisite for high achievement.

Conscientiousness: Achievement Oriented vs. Dependable

According to Duckworth, of the five personality traits, (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neurotic), conscientiousness is the most closely associated with grit. However, it seems that there are two types, and how successful you will be depends on what type you are.  Conscientiousness in this context means, careful and painstaking; meticulous.

The achievement-oriented individual is one who works tirelessly, tries to do a good job, and completes the task at hand, whereas the dependable person is more notably self-controlled and conventional. In other words, in the context of conscientious, grit, and success, it is important to commit to go for the gold rather than just show up for practice. 

Long-Term Goals and Endurance: Follow Through

It is important to note that long-term goals play an important role. Duckworth writes:

“… achievement is the product of talent and effort, the latter a function of the intensity, direction, and duration of one’s exertions towards a long-term goal.”

Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory and Duckworth’s findings align to the hour. However, one of the distinctions between someone who succeeds and someone who is just spending a lot of time doing something is this: practice must have purpose. That’s where long-term goals come in. They provide the context and framework in which to find the meaning and value of your long-term efforts, which helps cultivate drive, sustainability, passion, courage, stamina, and grit.

Resilience: Optimism, Confidence, and Creativity

Of course, in pursuing a long-term goal, you likely will stumble, and you will need to find a way to get back up. But what is it that gives you the strength to get up? Resilience. So, while a key component of grit is resilience, resilience is the powering mechanism that draws your head up, moves you forward, and helps you persevere despite whatever obstacles you face along the way.  In other words, gritty people believe, “everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, it is not the end.”

Excellence vs. Perfection

In general, gritty people don’t seek perfection, but instead strive for excellence. In general, perfection is someone else’s perception of an ideal, and pursuing it is like chasing a hallucination.

Excellence is an attitude, not an endgame. The word excellence is derived from the Greek word Arête which is bound with the notion of fulfillment of purpose or function and is closely associated with virtue. It is far more forgiving, allowing and embracing failure and vulnerability on the ongoing quest for improvement. It allows for disappointment, and prioritizes progress over perfection.

So, how much grit do you have? You can find out here!

Thought for the Day

Creativity — like human life itself — begins in darkness. We need to acknowledge this. All too often, we think only in terms of light: “And then the lightbulb went on and I got it!” It is true that insights may come to us as flashes. It is true that some of these flashes may be blinding. It is, however, also true that such bright ideas are preceded by a gestation period that is interior, murky, and completely necessary. —Julia Cameron, artist, author, teacher, filmmaker, composer, and journalist.

And One More Thing Before You Go . . .

My good friend recently shared this book with me, And One More Thing Before You Go …by Maria Shriver, and I absolutely loved it!  This little book grew out of a speech Maria gave at a mother-daughter luncheon.  A few of my favorite quotes from this book are shown below.  I hope that they provide some inspiration for you!

“Well trust me on this: it’s okay to be scared.  And not only is fear okay, its a good thing.  Our fear gives us wisdom.  It lets us know we’re confronting something new.”

“So even if you don’t plan on making history, remember: Fear is normal.  Fear is common.  And it keeps coming back.”

“As you dive into your own future, remember this: If you feel afraid, it means you’re alive.  That good.  Now use it.”

“Don’t lock yourself up and throw away the key.  Don’t be so rigid that you can’t change your plans.  Be willing to change your plans.  Be willing to change, to adapt.  Be willing to switch direction and strike out on a new path if you want.  Or if, like me, you have to.”

“The sad truth is, girls and women often think they’re not allowed to screw up.  They think they have to be perfect.  Let me tell you another thing: Perfectionism doesn’t make you perfect.  It only makes you feel bad about yourself, because no one can ever be perfect, including you.”

“Don’t sell yourself short by being so afraid of failure you don’t dare to make any mistakes.  Make your mistakes and learn from them.  And remember — no matter how many mistakes you make, your mother always loves you!”

“And if you think about it, most of the people you admire — people you know, people you’ve studied, those who’ve changed the world — have also suffered and struggled and fought with great courage to overcome obstacles.”

“Believe me, it’s fair.  It’s not only fair, it’s the way life is.  First you’re happy, and then you go through a time of struggle.  And then there’s smooth sailing, and then the rough ride begins again.  Over and over again.  That’s the way a good life is meant to be.”

“Along with love, courage is what you need more than anything in this life.  In tough times it tells you, ‘I can go through this!’  Even when it feels like you can’t.”

“When you feel down, when you’re having tough times, when you think you simply don’t have the strength and courage to go through something or just to press on — think about your mother or any Important Woman in your life.  Think of her strength and her courage and what she’s had to go through in her life.”

“Balance means weighing and measuring your priorities to put together a life that fulfills you on your own terms, not society’s expectations of you, one way or the other.  And balance also means recalibrating your priorities when you need and want to. ”

“Weigh out your competing priorities and see how you can fulfill them over time, without making yourself insane with guilt.  If you achieve that balance, that’ll make all of us older women envious of you — and proud.”

“Gratitude lifts your spirit.  It takes you right out of yourself and into a different plane.”

“When you’re stuck in self-pity or envy or worry, try getting grateful for something in your life.  It’s good for the soul.”

“Mentors are generous with their time and wisdom because they see in you something of themselves, and they want to help it flower.”

“Keep part of your childhood alive in you — the part that is curious, asks questions, and is willing to find and cultivate relationships with the people who can answer them.”

“Everyone of us can make a difference.  Everyone can be the difference in the lives of someone else.  And when we are — trust me, it feels like a million bucks.”

“Oh, and one more thing before you go: Have fun, laugh, and enjoy yourself.  It’ll be a blast.”

 

Lessons Learned: Creative Endeavor

 

I have been working on my long-term photography project for a really long time.  I am in the midst of finishing the final phase of revisions, after much work.  Recently, during this time, I have reflected upon the process, thus far, of bringing forth this work to fruition; and below are some lessons I have learned.

1.  Have the courage to start your project.  I found fear always showed itself, and continues, at every stage of creating this work.  You can let the fear be present, with you, but you should not surrender to it.  The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a great read on this subject.  There were many times that I felt fear, I do still feel fear, but I did and do my best to convince myself that I can keep going even though I do not know what lies on the other side.  So, if you love doing the work, mastering your craft, find the courage to do the work and remain passionate and curious.

2. Be Open.  When you start a creative endeavor, you may have one idea on how you think the work will take shape; however, be open and see where the work takes and guides you, which might be different.  For me, the work expanded in ways that I could not initially foresee at first.  I also found that there are many unanticipated twists and turns you need to navigate, which you cannot anticipate at the outset of starting a creative endeavor.  While creating this work, there were many twists and turns that presented themselves that I had to figure out and overcome to finish the body of work.  Thus, I learned that I had to be creative and determined to press on, no matter what.

3. Everything takes more time than you think.  I have been working on this body of work for over six years.  (I think most people likely would have given up long ago!)  Life happens all the while, and we experienced multiple life events during this time, including: selling a house; building a house; two moves; losing our beloved Biscuit; adopting our rescue, Victory, who joined our family; experiencing great loss; and welcoming our biggest collaboration, the addition of our baby Alex!  As a result, I would have thought going into this that I would have been done long ago.  However, I learned that things take much longer than you might initially anticipate, and it is good to know this going into any creative project.  I also find it helpful not to focus on the time and to have the mantra, in this final stage, “to take it a day at a time and an image at a time.”  And, there seems to be endless revisions, but then you finally settle at the place where you know the work is done, and I cannot wait to reach this place!

4. Mistakes happen.  Invariably, mistakes happen while undertaking a large project.  I certainly had my share, I likely still will, and I had to learn either how to work with them or how to improve to cure the ‘mistakes.’  Additionally, I learned that everything is ‘figureoutable,’ no matter what.

5. Find trustworthy people to review your work.  I have found that it has been invaluable to me to obtain feedback on my work, at various stages, in order to continue to refine and revise the body of work.

6. Allow the muse show up.  There were times when I was working, trying to figure something out, and when I worked too hard or when I agonized, I was unable to resolve the issue, which was extremely frustrating.  However, when I stepped back, asked the Universe for help — the muse showed up during times where I had no idea how I was able to get the image where it needed to be — it was magical and I was able to resolve the issue at hand in no time.  These are moments of pure bliss.

7. Push yourself.  Inspiration does not come knocking every day, as we all know.  You have to keep going at it yourself, too.  In order to pursue something creative, you must also work at it unassisted by inspiration and push yourself and your boundaries.  I dedicate time in my schedule, almost weekly, to work on this body of work.  There were, along the way, periods of rest, too.  I worked bit by bit, little by little, for a really long time, which I continue.  What I keep in mind, is that if you work like this consistently, the work quickly adds up– and finally one day the revisions are done and you are finished, the greatest gift.  One of my favorite quotes by Sally Mann, “There is a great quote from a female writer.  She said, ‘If you don’t break out in a sweat of fear when you write, you are not writing well enough.’   I tend to agree.  I think my best pictures come when I push myself.”

8. Be persistent.  If you are going to do any long-term project, you must be persistent, and not give up.  As mentioned above, life happens, and things, for me, are even more challenging getting this work finished with a baby; however, it is not impossible.  You have to find a way to keep going in the midst of it all and not let life or setbacks stop you from finishing.  Creating this body of work is so challenging and rewarding simultaneously.  I found that creating this body of work was much more difficult than attending law school, in so many ways.  In fact, it is one of the most challenging undertakings I have done.  At the inception of this project, I was incredibly naive about how involved this project would actually become.  Looking back, I suppose this was a blessing at the time.

9. Choose to trust.  You must have faith and trust while working on any creative endeavor, which, I know, is easier said than done.  It is like having a daily a blind faith and optimism that things will somehow work out, while still enjoying the process and the journey, while living in the unknown.

10. Let go of a specific outcome of the work.  The idea for this project came to me during the summer of 2012.  I will never forget the day the idea came to me, prior to leaving for our trip with Biscuit to Nova Scotia, and I thought I might actually be able to create this body of work.  I am not sure of the specific outcome, but finishing is the greatest reward for me right now.

This, outlined above, is what I have learned, thus far; I am sure there will be many more lessons learned in the next phase of this process and journey.

“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.  The hunt to uncover those jewels — that’s creative living.  The courage to go on that hunt in the first place — that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.  The often surprising result of that hunt — that’s what I call Big Magic.” — Elizabeth Gilbert