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My Homework For Life

My Onteejo and I have been making our way through the book “Storyworthy” by Matthew Dicks. He’s a Moth StorySLAM champion, who is utterly fantastic at telling stories. We decided we’d try his methods he explains in the book so we could get better at storytelling, too.

One of the first things Dicks says to do is to start what he calls Homework For Life. (He even did a TEDx talk about it). Homework For Life is a five minute activity at the end of your day where you sit and reflect on your waking hours, then write a few sentences about the most important moment of the day. What makes today different from the last? You log a moment when something changed, or you discovered something for the first time, or find some beauty or import you wouldn’t have found or seen otherwise.

Dicks describes Homework for Life as a way to develop a storytelling lens. He says you realize you have more stories than you can imagine, and when you start to look for stories in your life, stuff will come up from your past. Even if you don’t want to collect stories, amazing things happen from collecting your daily stories.

Thus, me and Onteejo decided to try Homework for Life for at least a week to see if we wanted to subscribe. Once the week was up, I found I wanted to share my moments with my aunt and asked if she’d mind sharing hers, too (I was so curious!).

If you’re curious like me, here’s mine:

9/7: Fun and flirty hike with Dan at Tyler State Park. We got lost at the top of the mountain, stumbling upon a horse farm and large amounts of rusted, abandoned boats, automobiles, and farm equpiment being eaten by trees and vines. Seemed like the beginning of a thriller/horror story.

9/8: Super flustered when I showed up at an OB/GYN appointment, only to discover my old OB/GYN (from 7 years ago) had moved into the same exact building/space as my new OB/GYN. I must have called the old one by accident and made the appointment when they confirmed the same. exact. address. as my new one. Mind-blowing!!! I sat in the waiting room at a total loss, wondering if I should stay, leave, or admit my mistake. I ultimately decided to just stay and get an exam. Whatever.

9/9: Kids first day of virtual first and fourth grade. It was rough since we didn’t know what to expect, and neither of us had owned any responsibility of it. I hated feeling unprepared on a day I wanted to be calm and collected to model for the kids. Ugh.

9/10: Ate with Dan and the kids indoors at a restaurant for the first time since March, then we ran to the beach to enjoy blue hour and the dark beach. Tears filled my eyes as I took deep breaths of ocean air, enjoying the moment of pure joy which on its own felt like it validated our new beach place:. The feeling of freedom, wildness, and the light touch of sea spray and rain while we all lost our minds and ran around like crazies in the darkness. It was perfect. It was a moment I hope to always remember.

9/11: (Thought I lost this day!) Bought candy at the candy shop after school with the kids and ate it on the beach while making sandcastles for a few hours. Charlie now calls all bees “Sweat-Bees” since learning about them on our lake house trip a few weeks ago. The grouping of the two words is hilarious to me.

9/12: Chilly day on the beach as we sat in hoodies, ate lunch, and chased napkins. Long conversation with Dan about our new schedule and who was willing to do what while we snuggled and I drank hot coffee.

9/13: Solo morning yoga on the beach at 8am, not caring who watched as I used AirPods to follow along with a yoga routine. It was relaxing and calming…but mostly glorious.

9/14: After a dinner of American-ized sushi (thick, giant portions and overly sticky rice) in Yardley, me and Dan went on a hunt to find a bakery that was still open, despite our full stomachs. We somehow ended up in a scary area of Trenton, NJ, finding a fantastic little Spanish bakery, complete with Tres Leches and Flan. A man who could’ve played Chewbacca rung us up and towered over the cash register, making it look like a child’s toy. I thought it was hilarious, and Dan thought I was mean. Potato Potahto.

9/15: Did my least favorite thing in the world today: went to the grocery store. Except today for some reason, I didn’t mind it so much and didn’t even listen to a book. It might have been less awful because it was empty, I had a list, it wasn’t raining, and it’d had been like month since I had last been there.

I enjoyed looking back at this list and smiling at the moments. I was surprised to find I could actually remember the past week, despite the busy and not busy moments. I even got upset when I couldn’t remember what happened on the 11th; it felt like I’d lost a whole freaking day! Super disconcerting. (Luckily, a moment from the 11th came back to me a few days later when I saw the lollipop candy one of my kids had picked out that day).

I like this writing/story-generating exercise and am definitely going to add it to my daily Morning Pages routine. (Or yeah, I’ll do it at night. Whatever.)

Dicks says that by doing Homework for Life every day, things will slow down. Life won’t pass you by in a blink. You’ll realize you are not an unimportant person, and that your days are not meaningless and the same. He says if you have commitment and faith, Homework for Life will change your life, though it may not happen instantly. Over time, you’ll discover there are meaningful life-changing moments that are happening to you all the time, and you can touch and read them years later and transport yourself right back into those moments. You can even do it on your death bed. It’s the greatest blessing you’ll ever give yourself.

Don’t lose a day!

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The Great Escape Challenge of 2020

In the middle of Thursday morning last week, in the middle of my lawn, sat a brand-new coffee table.

I pulled into my driveway exactly ten minutes after the delivery men called to notify me they were running over an hour early. As three men stood proudly around the beautiful, Pottery Barn coffee table sitting in the grass for my whole neighborhood to enjoy, I cringed and sweetly asked them to re-box it since it was going to another location. Luckily, they were happy to oblige and carry it down to my basement.

If you’ve been following along the last three months, you’d know I did The Artist’s Way 12-week recovery challenge, finishing it two weeks ago. Inspired by the work I did during those 12 weeks, I’ve created another challenge to help me get through the pandemic: The Great Escape Challenge of 2020. The challenge is to explore creative ways to escape and get out of my house in a safe way over the next year. 

Feel free to join me!  Maybe it’s planning a hike once a month, setting up a weekly Zoom party, carving out a new room in your home just for you, or setting time aside once a week to escape into a book or movie. Give yourself permission to try and find ways to get what you need during this rough time, no matter how silly it seems or what other people might think.

After a ridiculous amount of hours scouring the internet and sending inquiries, I found great solution for me and my family: a beach place only an hour away from where we live! With the kids going to school virtually this year, experimenting with having a place on the beach seems like it’ll be a fantastic, temporary escape with the option of it being long term if we love it. We’re planning on spending time there during the week and in the off-season, with less crowds and cooler temps. Wish us luck! 🙂

 

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Week 12: Forest Adventures, Phone Calls, and a Beach Apartment

Quick Recap: I’m getting through Quarantine 2020 by doing the 12-week creativity recovery challenge in the book, The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron.

Chapter 12: Recovering a Sense of Faith

“In this final week, we acknowledge the inherently mysterious spiritual heart of creativity. We address the fact that creativity requires receptivity and profound trust-capacities we have developed through out work in this course. We set our creative aims and take a special look at last-minute sabotage. We renew our commitment to the use of the tools.

I did it! I finished the 12-Week Artist’s Way Challenge!

This challenge has been invaluable while living in the last 3 months of ambiguity and unanswered questions. Will they create a vaccine for Covid-19? Will the country re-open? Will my kids be able to go back to school? Will I ever be able to travel again and delight in planning trips?

Twelve weeks later, and I still don’t know what’s in store for the future. However, thanks to this challenge, I’ve realized I can get through hard times and still enjoy my life without having answers to everything. The first section of this chapter—Truth—reminds us to focus on what we do know and trust our inner guides: “I know the things I know.”

I know that my family is healthy and thriving. I know that my kids can be educated virtually. I know that I can escape to my office/playroom when I need to be alone. I know that I can start a 12-week challenge and finish it. I know that I can show up every morning and do my morning pages. I know that I can wake up early and to workout and get work done. I know that I am close to finishing my book. I know that my high intensity and passion when I commit to something has a solid three-ish month lifespan, then I tend to get bored or burned out.

“Once we trigger an internal yes by affirming our truest goals and desires, the universe mirrors that yes and expands it. There is a path for each of us. When we are on our right path, we have a surefootedness. We know the next right action-although not necessarily what is just around the bend. By trusting, we learn to trust.”

I went into this 12-Week Challenge wanting to finish my YA Fantasy book and become a better writer. However, now at the end I can look back and see that those were clearly not my main goals. They were secondary wishes.

My truest goals and desires during this challenge were (I feel real basic for admitting this) to not be stuck in quarantine. I wanted to escape and “get out” when I needed relief from cabin fever and find some much needed alone time. Therefore, I can honestly say twelve weeks later I reached my true goal: having purpose, focus, direction, and the tunnel vision needed to climb my way out of all the ambiguity and anxiety, and escape.

For the first time, I submitted work to a short story contest (no, I did not win…But at least I tried and put myself out there!), I tried writing Erotica and joined a erotica literary group meet up (which was interesting and fun), I wrote 16 chapters of my YA Fantasy, I wrote new essays for a funny memoir I want to one day publish, and I wrote a never-ending, 120+ word book of morning page nonsense. I now have new author mentors (Natalie Goldberg, Dani Shapiro, and Lisa Cron to name a few), a closer relationship with my Onteejo (*smooches*) and I have a playroom that is the perfect space for my wild, playful mind to write and create.

I am more confident in my feelings, my writing, and what is most important to me. I let go of things much quicker, since I practice that daily in my Morning Pages. I get it out it in the pages, and then it’s gone. Who cares what it was or where it went? It’s garbage. If it comes up again and again, however, I know still have work to do. Maybe I have to have a conversation with someone, maybe I need to schedule an appointment, maybe I need to make some time commitment changes. Do the practice of Morning Pages has taught me how to bring all this stuff to light, making my life easier and, well…lighter.

I highly recommend this challenge to any blocked or stuck artist. Actually, even if you aren’t blocked or stuck, or even if you don’t consider yourself any sort of artist, you can still get a lot out of it. I promise! (Who doesn’t want permission to play?)

I am grateful for all I have gained from this journey, and have already started mourning the loss of it during this final week. What will I do next? How I will I structure my days if I don’t have daily tasks? Will I keep doing weekly calls with my Onteejo? Will I finish my book?

Every page of the Artist’s Way has quotes in the margins. The quotes in this last chapter were particularly inspiring:

“Adventures don’t begin until you get into the forest. That first step in an act of faith.” – Mickey Hart

“Do not fear mistakes-there are none.” – Miles Davis

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.” – Albert Einstein

In order to find a semblance of control in this chaos and some hope for the future, here’s what I’m doing—the mistakes and adventures that I’m making—now that the Artist’s Way Challenge is over:

  • Continue to do my Morning Pages (writing practice) every morning and the weekly artist dates and blog posts.
  • Finish my rough draft of my WIP
  • Help our company, SuperFriendly with its marketing by writing content, posting to social media, and creating an email newsletter
  • Continue my weekly calls with my Onteejo. Even though I hate phone calls (small talk makes me want to shoot myself), I’ve enjoyed our these past few weeks, as we have structure and purpose, and they often end up going easily over 30 minutes. We’ve both agreed to be each other’s “creative colleague” and committing to weekly check-ins as outlined in the Creativity Contract at the end of the book. I really do a ton more writing because I know I have our call coming up and want to have work to share!
  • Redo the Artist’s Way challenge in a few months. I will buy a new book to destroy again with pen, sticky notes, and highlighters, and recommit to the challenge to see what new goals and desires come up. Instead of typing the morning pages on my laptop, next time around I’d like to do them by hand and see if that makes any sort of difference. I’d also focus more on the spiritual stuff in the book, as I found that resisted it HARD these past 12 weeks, and only started to really give it any importance in the last three.
  • Rent a beach apartment. I just adventurously signed the lease! I mentioned this in my last post, but as someone who loves to travel and isn’t able to right now, it’s been rough. I started house hunting then realized I don’t want to commit to anything in this moment, so why not rent for a year? Despite the perceived waste of money, it will provide our family with a LOT. A place to “travel” to during quarantine, a change of scenery if the kids end up virtual learning (which seems likely), the ocean!, ability to see if we like renting vs. owning, trying out renting property, distraction, figuring out what is reasonable for our income, decorating!, make new friends, socializing our yorkie puppy, a weekend getaway spot, etc.

“One does not discover new lands without consent to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” – Andre Gide

 

 

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Week 11: Weird Coats and Lip Gloss

Quick Recap: I’m getting through Quarantine 2020 by doing the 12-week creativity recovery challenge in the book, The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron.

Chapter 11: Recovering a Sense of Autonomy

“This week we focus on our artistic autonomy. We examine the ongoing ways in which we must nurture and accept ourselves as artists. We explore the behaviors that can strengthen our spiritual base and, therefore, our creative power. We take a special look at the way in which success must be handled in order that we not sabotage our freedom.”

Two sections of this chapter stood out to me: Acceptance and The Zen of Sports. In the Acceptance section, Cameron talks about how different we are as artists. We don’t live conventionally, and when we try to, we sabotage ourselves, and it seeps into our lives in negative ways. She gives us permission to accept ourselves and our artist, and to just work with it instead of against it.

“I cannot allow my emotional and intellectual life to stagnate or the work will show it. My life will show it. My temperament will show it. If I don’t create, I get crabby. As an artist, I can literally die from boredom. I kill myself when I fail to nurture my artist child because I am acting like somebody else’s idea of an adult…To be an artist is to acknowledge the astonishing. It is to allow the wrong piece in a room if we like it. It is to hang on to a weird coat that makes us happy. It is to not keep trying to be something that we aren’t. If you are happier writing than not writing, painting than not painting, singing than not singing, acting than not acting, directing than not directing, for God’s sake (and I mean that literally) let yourself do it.”

I resonated with a lot of the points in the Zen of Sports section, as Cameron explains why we need to get out of our heads and into our bodies in order to enable creative recovery.

“Exercise combats this spiritually induced dysfunction… the goal is to connect to a world outside of us, to lose the obsessive self-focus of self-exploration and, simply, explore… Exercise teaches us the rewards of process… Exercise, much maligned as mindless activity among certain individuals, turns out to be thought-provoking instead.

I usually work out five days a week, but have been struggling to make it a priority in the past three. I view exercise as a way to work through tough stuff and satisfy the ever-present, obnoxious question of whether or not I’m taking care of my body. Julia challenged my view of exercise this week, and offered some reframing: “The goal [of exercise] is connect to a world outside of us, to lose obsessive self-focus of self-exploration and, simply, explore.

I’ve decided to work out three days a week, with a walk or bike ride on the rest days. (Damn it sounds easier in a sentence). I miss working out at the gym, as it was my way to get out of the house. Exercising at home is tough, though, because everything around me is distracting and seems more important. Despite that, I’m going to figure it out and do it, because who am I to argue with Buddha: “To keep the body in good health is a duty…Otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”

______________

This week, I:

  • Did my Morning Pages every day
  • Did my Artist Date and made lava lip gloss with my kids
  • Rewrote chapters 13-14, and wrote chapters 15 and some of 16 of my WIP
  • Took a long walk at a nearby park, worked out twice this week, and spent time with friends.
  • When I should have been writing, I spent hours searching for a new home or for an apartment/condo and always wound up frustrated with too many options.
  • Made an actual decision (Shh! The elusive decision emerges for its barely-annual visit) to rent a beach apartment for a year. We’re checking it out this weekend, so fingers crossed it’s not Jersey Shore gross. If you’re curious, here’s why I’ve made this choice:
    • In hopes of quelling my anxious, trapped feelings during quarantine (as I doubt we’ll be traveling for a while), it’s a great, one hour drive, get-away
    • It will give us a deadline to work on making our house ready-to-sell and we won’t have to be in it if there’s construction or work being done
    • To see if we’ve romanticized the idea of apartment/condo living and if it is actually a better option for our family than owning
    • To have a safe change of scenery if the kids are doing virtual school again this fall
    • I can rent it out when we aren’t using it, and gain experience in having an investment property. I’ve always been curious. If it is profitable in any way, this could lead to a slew of different future options. 🙂
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Week 10: Books, Bottom Lines, and Spiked Lemonade

Quick Recap: I’m getting through Quarantine 2020 by doing the 12-week creativity recovery challenge in the book, The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron.

Chapter 10: Recovering a Sense of Self-Protection

“This week we explore the perils that can ambush us on our creative path. Because creativity is a spiritual issue, many of the perils are spiritual perils. In the essays, tasks, and exercises of this week, we search out the toxic patterns we cling to that block our creative flow.”

Get ready for this recap, ya’ll. Grab a drink, pack some snacks, and make sure you’re comfortable, because I’ve worked some things out this week, and I’m bringing you along for the ride.

“In creative recovery, it is far easier to get people to do the extra work of the morning pages than it is to get them to do the assigned play of an artist date. Play can make a workaholic very nervous. Fun is scary… Fun leads to creativity. It leads to rebellion. It leads to feeling our own power, and that is scary.”

Julia is totally spot on! I’ve had no problems with the Morning Pages, and even crave them sometimes. But the artist date? Not a priority. I don’t even know what to schedule, and even if I did, when and how would I get the time? Quarantine has made this assignment more difficult, but I think if I can work through it while it’s the toughest, it will only be easier later once the pandemic is over.

One of the main sections in this chapter is Workaholism, which I immediately resisted and discounted, as I didn’t think it applied to me. I don’t have a 9 to 5 job, where bosses, clients and employees are dependent on me. However, in “The Workaholism Quiz” the item I connected with the most was, “#18: I allow myself down time to do nothing; seldom, often, never?”

My answer of “seldom to never” brought on the revelation that I do have a job with people who depend on me, and where things could get tough if I didn’t show up.

“If you really have no time, you need to make some room. It is more likely, however, that you have the time and are misspending it.”

Damn, Julia. Harsh! She’s right again, of course. Thanks to this quarantine, I’ve been struggling to get my needs met. This need to be alone has roared its ugly head and sharp teeth in the past few weeks as the pandemic teased us with its descending numbers, only to climb again. It has made me irritable, finding fault with everyone and everything, most often with myself. And that is unacceptable. I am awesome.

So why couldn’t I read the 85+ words of my morning page task I was assigned to the week before? Why couldn’t I work on my book and organize my twisty plot of Act III? Why couldn’t I just sit at my desk and write without searching the internet for beach hotels and homes for sale?

Because Julia is right. My job is in the home, and not being able to leave “work,”now, I have no relief from it. I can’t shut the door on it the way people can walk out of an office building, transitioning into their family or social life. My usual respite is travel. I can “hang in there” because I know I’ll be able to enjoy living in a hotel for a short while, with enough distractions to keep me from thinking about the never-ending needs of a family and its home. How the siding and fence need fixing, the rooms need to be cleaned, and the uniforms need to be washed. Light bulbs need to be replaced, the refrigerator smells, who is going to take the dog out, what about dinner, appointments need to be made, and when was the last bath time? Where are the summer clothes? Which shoes don’t fit and where are they?

As desperation set in early this week, instead of waiting for my busy husband to send a text message to his parents (the only people my husband is comfortable interacting with during this quarantine), I did it myself, and asked if the kids could sleep over.

I got the space I so desperately needed and felt like I could put my Hulk away, returning back to Bruce Banner. I dove deep and finally read the first eight weeks of Morning Pages a week late. I noted all the times I mentioned the words “escape”, “trapped”, “stuck”, and “bored.” (A lot.) Every time I started a sentence with the word “Maybe,” it was immediately followed by an action I should take (which I found I usually acted on a few weeks later): Maybe I should try a new place to bike ride, maybe I should put boundaries around conversations, maybe I should let go of a certain relationship, maybe I need to practice writing certain scenes, maybe I should just book a room in Cape May, and maybe I should just keep writing.

“To write is to right things. Sooner or later—always later than we like—our pages will bring things right. A path will emerge. An insight will be a landmark that shows the way out of the wilderness.”

It was clear that I was in desperate need of getting away, creating space and finding alone time. I needed room in order to manage not only my life, but the complexity of holding and organizing an entire book’s plot and story line in my head, and to get it all out onto paper in a way that makes sense.

While the kids were at Grandma’s, I booked a short beach trip for that weekend, and it was perfect. We managed maintaining our distance from the crowds by adjusting our schedule. We walked on the empty beach at 7am and found all sorts of amazing treasures like seashells, horseshoe crabs, and giant jellyfish.

After enjoying alone time and quelling my adventure monster, I sat down at my desk a few days later, and had finally created enough space to be able to focus! I re-plotted Act III, giving me more direction and confidence in order to finish writing the last part of the book. I was so excited, and felt so validated after getting my needs met, that it made me cry when I shared the news with my husband.

I rediscovered this quote from “Girl, Wash Your Face,” by Rachel Hollis I read a few years ago, and wrote it in Sharpie on my wall later that morning:

“You’re allowed to want to be your best self, to pursue your dream, even if they don’t understand it. You’re allowed to push for something more, even if they don’t like it. You’re allowed to take time away from your kids, even if it’s an inconvenience to the person who has to watch them. You’re allowed to do something, even if it makes your partner uncomfortable. You’re allowed to tell people who you are and what you need instead of first asking if they’re all right with it. You’re allowed to simply exist without permissions or opinions or qualifiers. Grown-up women don’t ask permission.”

One of the tasks at the end of Chapter Ten is to set five “Bottom Lines” for yourself. It’s basically a gentler way of saying, “Set some rules and boundaries for your workaholic self, damn it,” in order to allow space for your creativity.

I actually made six Bottom Lines for myself during this Quarantine (or until the kids go back to school):

  1. Write from 6am to 10am every morning. This is nonnegotiable. It means saying no to anything else that pops up: email, exercise, kids, appointments, anything…no matter how appealing or fun. I have the rest of the day to do those things.
  2. I will not tolerate a week without at least a day to myself. Anything less is unacceptable.
  3. I will not stay up late. I need rest to be able to show up and work in the morning. I can find other ways to connect with my husband and friends.
  4. I will ask the Divine Creator for help.  I will trust that she will take care of the things I have no control over and the things I feel like can’t manage without me.
  5. I will take a walk, bike ride, or mediate every day. Through this challenge, I’ve learned that these activities create space in my head when I can’t get alone time.
  6. I will reward and treat myself weekly, if not daily. I will be compassionate. I’ll celebrate large and small victories, or just celebrate me. I will allow my artist child her desire to restart her keychain collection, to climb trees and lie under them in the grass, to dress up, and to sing at the top of her lungs in the car. I’ll buy her Zebra cakes and rainbow popsicles, let her wear the crazy earrings, and the red rain boots she loves. We’ll both enjoy getting lost in a YA fantasy book, riding bikes, going for walks, pirate video games, and playing with the kids.

____

This week, I:

  • Did my Morning Pages every day…even at the beach! My artist date was picking tiny tumbled rocks at Higbee beach (Cape May diamonds!) to put in a glass jar on my desk.
  • I read my weeks 1-8 Morning Pages and learned a lot about myself.
  • Found treasures at the beach with my kids and felt that chest-exploding happiness.
  • My husband’s sweet gift of a new, fancy office chair arrived this week. (He thought my old one was garbage and would injure my back). It’s great!
  • Rode bikes with a friend and then got lunch and drinks afterward at the Vault in Yardley, PA. Their homemade spiked lemonade is the perfect amount of tangy sweetness. Delicious!
  • Went to the bookstore for the first time in months. It was glorious. I bought all the books. All of them. This type clutter surrounding me at my desk is bringing me joy. Yesssss!
  • I brainstormed and outlined Act III of my WIP.
  • I rewrote Chapter 13, and some of 14.

 

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Week 9: Playrooms and Protests

Quick Recap: I’m getting through Quarantine 2020 by doing the 12-week creativity recovery challenge in the book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Chapter 9: Recovering a Sense of Compassion

“This week finds us facing the internal blocks to creativity. It may be tempting to abandon ship at this point. Don’t! We will explore and acknowledge the emotional difficulties that beset us in the past as we made creative efforts. We will undertake healing the shame of past failures. We will gain in compassion as we reparent the frightened artist child who yearns for creative accomplishment. We will learn tools to dismantle emotional blocks and support renewed risk.”

The first sections of the chapter are Fear and Enthusiasm. “Fear is the true name for what ails the blocked artist. It may be fear of failure or fear of success…The need to be a great artist makes it hard to be an artist. The need to produce a great work of art makes it hard to produce any art at all.”

Cameron continues to drive home the point that art is childlike: “Enthusiasm is grounded in play, not work…In order to work well, many artists find that their work space are best dealt with as play spaces.”

This made me feel validated in my reframing last week of my idea of “fun” this summer, and the work I did in the beginning of this challenge to mess up the walls of my office, or what I will not refer to as my playroom. The walls are spray painted in rainbow colored squiggles, crisscrossed by bright duct tape and sticky notes, and covered in quickly scribbled quotes with colored Sharpies. It’s a hot, glorious mess. “Most little kids would be bored silly in a stark, barren room. Our artist child is no exception.”

The last two sections are Creative U-turns and Blasting Through Blocks. They were helpful this week as I have found myself slowing down and spending less time writing. I’m on the last act of my book which is getting complicated and harder to manage in my brain, never mind even getting it out on paper! It’s stuck in there and swirling around like a confused drunk that can’t unlock a door.

Thanks to this chapter, I realized that I actually didn’t have the mental space to write my book, and I wasn’t giving myself permission to create more space. The Artist Dates have been the most difficult thing about this challenge for me, as it’s been particularly difficult being in quarantine and not wanting to burden anyone with my needs.

“To recover from a creative U-turn, or a pattern involving many creative U-turns, we must first admit that it exists. Yes, I did react negatively to fear and pain. Yes, I do need help…Remember, your artist is a creative child. It sulks, throws tantrums, holds grudges, harbors irrational fears…it falls to your to convince your artist it is safe to come out and (work) play.”

By the end of the week, I recognized my block and asked my kid’s grandma to take them overnight. This gave me the mental space to sit and read my Morning Pages from weeks one to eight, which I printed out (A whopping 85K plus words! It’s basically a short, boring novel…but full of personal insight and actionable items). I also took a delightful afternoon nap and enjoyed a completely clean house for the first time in over three months.

I asked for help and was able to create mental space for myself. And it felt good, like I could bring my creative self to the writing table again.

“We learn to do something by doing. There is no other way.” – John Holt (Educator)

—–

This week, I:

  • Did my Morning Pages and chapter tasks every day
  • My Artist Date: an hour and a half bike ride on the Delaware Canal Towpath where I yelled at geese and turtles that blocked my path. I also got a hitch put on my car and added a bike rack so the family can ride together now, too!
  • Finished Chapter 14 and half of 15 of my WIP
  • Spent on average an hour or two a day working and writing
  • Wrote my kids three, one-page chapters for a book we started. It’s a about them, their super dog, Max and his summer adventures. They can illustrate or act out the stories, and my oldest has taken to helping me with the plots and characters. She likes seeing them printed out, so we punch holes and put them in a binder, along with blank sheets of paper for them to illustrate on or write story ideas
  • Did a peaceful Father’s Day protest march with The Dad Gang for the Black Lives Matter movement in D.C. with my family
  • Finally booked a weekend in Cape May, now that we are in the green during this pandemic (it’s been distracting me every morning as I scour the internet for places to stay instead of finishing my book)

 

 

 

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Week 8:  Mountain Climbing and Cannonballs

Quick Recap: I’m getting through Quarantine 2020 by doing the 12-week creativity recovery challenge in the book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Chapter Eight: Recovering a Sense of Strength

 “This week tackles another major creative block: time. You will explore the ways in which you have used your perceptions of time to preclude taking creative risks. You will identify immediate and practical changes you can make in your current life. You will excavate the early conditioning that may have encouraged you to settle for far less than you desire creatively.”

This week addressed some of our greatest struggles as blocked artists: Old wounds and patience.

“We must remember that our artist is a child and that what we can handle intellectually far outstrips what we can handle emotionally. We must be alert to flag and mourn our loses…We are childlike, not childish.”

I love that quote. I feel like in the last eight weeks, Cameron constantly refers us to our little selves, reminding us of that elusive moment in time when we didn’t have adult insecurities and were proud of things like nonsense scribbles and cannonballs.

The section that I got the most out of: Age and Time: Product and Process

Cameron says, “Focused on process, our creative life retains a sense of adventure.”

The overwhelming task of completing a book has felt mountainous to me, and nothing like a fun adventure. I felt like it was just too big to climb. I was already exhausted from the hundred little hills I had to hike in my busy life. It was too much to take on. Too high. Too scary.

“Instead of allowing ourselves a creative journey, we focus on the length of the trip. ‘It’s such a long way,’ we tell ourselves. It may be, but each day is just one more day with some motion in it, and that motion toward a goal is very enjoyable…creativity lies not in the done but in doing…The grace to be a beginner is always the best prayer for an artist. The beginner’s humility and openness lead to exploration. Exploration leads to accomplishment. All of it begins at the beginning, with the first small and scary step.”

I decided instead of envisioning myself climbing a scary, gigantic mountain, I would imagine I was on a fun journey to the top of a mountain with friends, enjoying the exploration, scenery, and camaraderie in each step.

For my first step, I’ll simply agree to the journey. “Why yes, I would love to go on this journey of writing and finishing my book.” Saying it out loud, telling people about it, being held accountable once making the decision is exciting and thrilling in itself. Will I or won’t I be able to do it?

Then for the next step, I’ll start the “doing,” the walking, one step at a time. I will write my book one word at a time. I’ll focus only on each step, one foot after another, enjoying the hike, the scenery, the energy, the momentum, the progress. One word, one sentence, one paragraph, one page, then one chapter, one act, then another. And I’ll trust that in doing so, I’ll eventually get to the top of the mountain. I’ll only worry about this step for right now. I won’t worry about what I will do at the top until I get there.

As of writing this, I am halfway through Chapter 14 of my young adult book and can now say I am closer to finishing than starting. The adventure hasn’t been easy so far, but it sure feels good.

Linus Pauling says, “Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.”  

“When obsession strikes—as it will—about how the damn thing is not any good, you tell yourself that this is a question for later and turn back to doing what is the next right thing… As a rule of thumb, it is best to just admit that there is always one action you can take for your creativity daily,” Cameron continues.

I took that advice to heart this week. When my Onteejo (my amazing auntie artist and accountability aficionado) asked if I wanted to see the comments and edits she made on the rough chapters I sent her, I said, “Yes, but not right now.” I wanted to honor her interest and thoughts on my work, but I remebered now isn’t the time to do that, as it is “a question for later” as Cameron puts it.

My beginner’s goal is to focus solely on finishing this rough draft and completing it. And once I’m finished, I will take the next step: editing. On my way back down the mountain, I’ll take in all the comments and suggestions I can as I fix my story to make it great. Right now, however, it doesn’t have to be great. The next right thing is: just getting it done!

—-

This week, I:

  • Did the Morning Pages every day, along with the chapter Tasks and my Artist Date (made bracelets charms with the kids out of modeling clay).
  • Finished Chapters 11, 12, and 13 of my YA Fantasy WIP.
  • Wrote a blog post.
  • Spent on average three and a half hours a day writing/working on this challenge and my book.
  • Celebrated my youngest daughter’s Kindergarten graduation (with only grandparents) in our driveway with takeout Thai food and smore’s.
  • Started a summer story book for my kids about their adventures with their puppy. I’ll write them a few page-length chapters a week for them to draw, act out, or write themselves.
  • Did an hour and half bike ride with a friend, and finally made the appointment to get a hitch put on my car for a bike rack. Woohoo!
  • Enjoyed a fantastic weekend alone for the first time in over four months with my husband. We spent one day exploring the Philadelphia navy ship yard and the empty stadiums, getting takeout from one of our favorite restaurants near Rittenhouse. We spent the another day with a couple of friends lazily tubing down the Delaware river.

 

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Week 7: Compassion and Keychains

Quick Recap: I’m getting through Quarantine 2020 by doing the 12-week creativity recovery challenge in the book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Chapter Seven: Recovering a Sense of Connection

“We turn this week to the practice of right attitudes for creativity. The emphasis is on your receptive as well as active skills. The essays, exercises, and tasks aim at excavating areas of genuine creative interest as you connect with your personal dreams.”

A few sections in Chapter Seven that stood out to me this week and helped me grow creatively:

The section on listening: Instead of thinking something up or coming up with something, she suggests thinking about it as coming down, as if from a divine creative source. In the last two weeks, it has come hard and down clear that we as non-black Americans haven’t listened to the black community. Stella Terrill Mann says: “Listening is a form of accepting.” In this section, Cameron is talking about listening to divine inspiration and letting yourself be used creatively, and I think it applies. “We can learn not only to listen but also to hear with increasing accuracy that inspired, intuitive voice that says, “Do this, try this, say this…” The black community needs us to not only listen, but to act.

The section on perfectionism: This topic always hits hard for me, but I have been working on it the past few years. “Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead…Instead of creating freely and allowing errors to reveal themselves later as insights, we often get mired in getting the details right. We correct our originality into a uniformity [blech] that lacks passion and spontaneity.” (emphasis mine).

This challenge has changed the way I attempt to write a first draft. Now, whenever I find myself wanting to go back and fix a chapter I’ve written, I don’t let myself. I just move on to the next chapter. The goal right now is to get it finished, and next goal will be to go back and fix it. It does NOT need to be anywhere close to perfect right now, especially since I don’t know exactly how it will end. “That is a normal part of creativity—letting go. We always do the best we can by the light we have to see by.”

The section on risk: In the last few years, I have worked hard and trained myself to be highly risk tolerant. It is coming in handy with my goals right now. By constantly trying new, uncomfortable things, I have accepted the possibility that even though I might not be incredible at something on the first try, it is still worth the risk. What if I love it? What if I found something I’ve been missing because I was too scared to try? And if I don’t love it, at least now I know and I’ve learned something.

And an added bonus: I am always doing something interesting and have things to talk about. Talking about something you’ve already done is less interesting then talking about what you are currently doing. It has more life and energy.

I have this quote by Ben Franklin posted on the wall in front of my face right now: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

Since “do[ing] something worth writing” about is severely limited right now because of the pandemic (Philadelphia slowly re-opened this week, but the virus is still at large with no vaccine), I have chosen now as the time to “write something worth reading.” However, doing so is particularly tough in this season since I tend to look forward to playing during summer break and taking it easy.

Thanks to another sticky note on my wall that says: “Creativity lives in paradox: serious art is born from serious play,” I have reframed my ideas about taking a break and playing in the summer (lazy days with drinking with friends, playing with the kids, and spontaneous beach trips). Writing isn’t work, it’s my true form of play, and I will make it my priority this summer. Every thing else is a bonus.

And lastly, one of this week’s daily tasks was to make this phrase a mantra: Treating myself like a precious object will make me strong.

I tend to think that being hard on myself will make me stronger—the Artist’s Way Challenge has shown me that I am the hardest on myself—so I am also going to reframe how I treat myself. I bought this book by Kristen Neff, Ph.D, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind To Yourself, to give me tools on how to treat myself better.

Neff helped me realize how much unnecessary suffering I experience by continuing to be hard on myself. She talks about how we all experience pain, which is unfortunately unavoidable, but the suffering that comes from our pain can be lessened. I have a lot to learn, and am already putting into practice Neff’s advice and tips, especially the parts on how to talk to yourself when experiencing hardship.

This week, I:

  • Did the morning pages every day and after eight weeks of this, I recognized a pattern: the word “grumpy” shows up in the first few sentences every day during the weeks I am hormonal. Heh.
  • Spent on average 3.5 hours a day writing and working. This week’s hours were lessened (significantly lower than my rise to 5-6 hours two weeks ago) as I tried to practice treating myself like a precious object. Some days were tough as I didn’t want to write at all, but I did the work anyway.
  • Finished chapters 9, 10, and almost 11 of my WIP.
  • Realized I might be finished my first draft in July. And did a little dance.
  • Submitted my writing for the first time to a short story contest! Did another little dance.
  • Did a character study for my main character for my WIP.
  • Artist Date: Fixed my brakes and took an hour long bike ride, going further than just the safety of my neighborhood.
  • Took an hour long walk, and wasn’t mad that I got rained on the last five minutes.
  • Had Zebra cakes and a White Claw or two almost every night. This is a treat for me as I don’t usually eat sugar nor drink by myself. I also bought myself a keychain of a Bermuda Moped (scooter), similar to my favorite one I had as a kid.
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Week 6: Amplifying, Unifying, and Dividing

Quick Recap: I’m getting through Quarantine 2020 by doing the 12-week creativity recovery challenge in the book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Chapter Six: Recovering a Sense of Abundance

Chapter Six is about “tackle[ing] a major creative block—money. You are asked to really look at your own ideas around God, money, and creative abundance.  The essays will explore the ways in which your attitudes limit abundance and luxury in your current life. You will be introduced to counting, a block-busting tool for clarity and the right use of funds. This week may feel volatile.”

This week was hella volatile, and not just because of this chapter’s focus. Not only are we in the midst of fighting a virus pandemic, but we are also in the midst of fighting the pandemic of racism. The death of the innocent black man, George Floyd, by the police went unpunished and uncharged, and caused violent and peaceful riots all over the world. It has forced those of us with privilege to finally wake up to the injustice and start doing the work —the work we should have been doing all along—to change systemic racism. Those of us who have stayed in our lane—our comfortable lane of privilege and ignorance— are ashamed, and are riding up to fight alongside our fellow Americans and black community.

This moment in history is both unifying and divisive. We are seeing those who stayed home during the Covid-19 pandemic to not only protect themselves, but to protect their communities, and consequently, we are seeing those who selfishly didn’t. We are also seeing the pandemic of racism more clearly than ever before. We are seeing how we haven’t supported the black community, and are seeing who is choosing to taking action and change that, and who isn’t. Because of what we are seeing, we are unifying and amplifying, and yet at the same time, we are dividing. We are using our judgement, and making hard cuts of those things and people who are toxic, close-minded, and displaying the traits narcissism like self-centeredness and actively remaining ignorant. We are making our circles smaller, letting go of relationships that aren’t healthy for us or for equality as a whole. We are standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves and making it known.

Community and taking care of each other is more important than it has ever been before in America, the land of the individual and independent. Making changes, lifting each other up, and fighting for equality have become the most important thing in order to keep our fellow citizens alive. The importance of human lives is at stake; we are finally opening our eyes and seeing how our individual way of life supports or denies it in high definition.

This week, my “sense of abundance,”—my white privilege—was revealed loud and clear. Because of the color of my skin, I have the ability to think about what I want to do with my money, outside of keeping me and my family alive. With white privilege, I can contemplate my abundance. I expect help even if I don’t need it and can get help easily when I do need it. I can get loans, I can ask my family for money; I have more choices than others do.

This lack of equality is unacceptable. Everyone should have the same privileges and be treated equally.

The quote that stood out to me in this chapter:

“The actual block is our feeling of constriction, our sense of powerlessness. Art requires us to empower ourselves with choice.”

I choose to change and to be an active advocate for the black community. I apologize for not listening, not paying attention, and not doing enough to help. I apologize for not caring enough, because I while I do care about them, I have not done the work show it. It was not enough. I want the black community to have the same freedoms and privileges that I do. I want them to not fear for their children, I want them to have the same amount of opportunities, and I want them to have a life of abundance. I will support and create change by:

  1. Showing up: paying attention by attending rallies, conferences, and concerts, voting for leaders that are fighting for change, and by reading books and exploring art by black artists.
  2. Listening: watching black-made movies and documentaries, reading news and articles, talking to the black community, and most importantly, not making it about me.
  3. Financing: donating to causes that help the black community, shopping at black businesses like restaurants and retail stores, and hiring black.
  4. Speaking out: amplifying them on social media, continuing to be open and vocal about racism and injustice (even if I get it wrong and need to be corrected). I will not stay silent.

“Every time you state what you want or believe, you’re the first to hear it. It’s a message to both you and others about what you think is possible. Don’t put a ceiling on yourself.” – Oprah Winfrey

This Week, I:

  • Educated myself on racism and the black community
  • Brainstormed ways to support and amplify the black community not only right now, but forever
  • Spoke out on social media and talked to my friends and family about the systemic racism and how we can do our part to change it
  • Did the Morning Pages every morning and completed the Tasks and Artist Date
  • Wrote chapters 7, 8 and half of 9 for my YA Fantasy
  • Spent on average 4 hours a day writing/working rather than my usual 5-6, as I was very distracted with the state of the world and black oppression
  • Hung up two more giant wipe board walls to use when I brainstorm
  • Filled up a garbage truck of household junk and furniture and made space
  • Got angry. Felt stressed, overwhelmed, ashamed, and at times helpless and powerless.
  • Took long walks and bike rides with my kids
  • Had long and tough conversations with my husband and friends and family
  • Made hard and necessary decisions to let go of close-minded, toxic relationships until something changes
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Week 5: White Claws and Video Games

Quick Recap: I’m getting through Quarantine 2020 by doing the 12-week creativity recovery challenge in the book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Chapter Five: Recovering a Sense of Possibility

I nicknamed this the Childish Week, as I felt silly, defiant, and in tune with what I wanted to do regardless of whether it was right or wrong.

Cameron says this week I examined payoffs in remaining stuck, explored how I curtail my own possibilities on the good I can receive, examined the cost of settling for appearing good instead of being authentic, and found myself thinking about radical changes, no longer ruling out my growth by making others the cause of my constriction this week.

Me and Onteejo (my artist aunt who is doing this along with me) both agreed this was the best quote of the chapter: “The true self is a disturbing character, healthy and occasionally anarchistic, who knows how to play, how to say no to others, and “yes” to itself.”

With 70 days of Covid-19 Quarantine putting large limits on my “inner child,” this week was particularly rough. I did find myself more anarchistic and desperate to play than normal. My husband got visibly distraught with me about not wearing a helmet on our slower-than-walking bike ride through our neighborhood, and also upset about my decision to visit a friend who just turned 50 (outside and six feet apart!) while the stay-at-home order is still in place for any non-essential activity. I bought only foods that could be eaten immediately or microwaved at the grocery store and I played video games (the source of inspiration for the book I’m writing!) while drinking White Claws one afternoon instead of doing laundry and other desperately needed housework.

My whole life I have lived in a way that makes sure everyone else is comfortable. My empathic nature and religious upbringing instilled the sense that being selfish is wrong, and thus, I never learned the right way to balance my needs with the needs of others.

This chapter of the Artist’s Way journey showed me how in doing so, I unknowingly abandon myself. So, despite feeling a bit strange at first, I practiced choosing myself this week. I gave myself permission to play, and to take small steps—calculated, daring risks—towards correcting those destructive notions.

What I found was peace, joy, and freedom in being and doing what some may think of as “wrong.” I experienced the delight in playing my favorite childhood video game, the elation and freedom of feeling the wind whip through my hair and the sun burning my cheeks while riding bikes with my kids, the healing joy of belly-aching laughter with two friends after months of deprivation.

In choosing to say no to others, I said yes to myself. I found I didn’t emotionally caretake my husband for his feelings about what he considered “unsafe” actions. I didn’t feel the usual guilt when saying no to a friend’s group phone call that I knew I wouldn’t enjoy, or canceling plans to get together with others later that week. I was willing to accept the consequences and aftermath, because—and most importantly—I was only willing to do and choose what was right for me. And now in this moment, looking back on this week, I realized I made choices based on what needed.

“We listen to other people’s ideas of what is self-destructive, without ever looking at whether their self and our self have similar needs. Caught in the Virtue Trap, we refuse to ask ourselves, ‘What are my needs? What would I do if it weren’t too selfish?’”

Cameron spends a large portion of the chapter addressing another important need (or “selfishness”) of an artist: alone time.

“An artist must have downtime, time to do nothing. Defending our right to such time takes courage, conviction, and resiliency. Such time, space, and quiet will strike our family and friends as a withdrawal from them. It is.”

Five weeks in, my family has definitely felt the withdrawal. However, being endlessly quarantined together for the last two and half months has made this challenge extra difficult, as none of us are ever truly alone. I’m beginning to let go of the guilt I’ve felt when I try to make space for myself, and because of that, I’m starting to reap the benefits and enjoy the change. With the first three weeks of this challenge being the hardest, it’s taken a lot of adjusting from all of us. In the next two weeks, as the quarantine lifts, we will likely have to do it all over again.

“An artist requires the upkeep of creative solitude. An artist requires the healing of alone time. Without this period of recharging, our artist becomes depleted. Over time, it becomes something worse than out of sorts…For many creatives, the belief that they must be nice and worry about what will happen with their friends, family, mate if they dare to do what they really want to, constitutes a powerful reason for non-action…What we really want is to be left alone. When we can’t get others to leave us alone, we eventually abandon ourselves…Afraid to appear selfish, we lose our self. We become self-destructive. Because this self-murder is something we seek passively rather than consciously act out, we are often blind to its poisonous grip on us.”

In Glennon Doyle’s recently released book, “Untamed,” she says to her kids: “It’s your job to disappoint as many people as possible in order to avoid disappointing yourself.”

I now have a sticky note on the wall in front of me with my new mantra: It is not your job to make people comfortable.

Leslie M. McIntyre says: “Nobody objects to a woman being a good writer or sculptor or geneticist if at the same time she manages to be a good wife, good mother, good-looking, good-tempered, well-groomed, and unaggressive.” Yeah fuck that.

What I did this week:

  • Morning pages and chapter tasks everyday, averaging about 5-6 hours of writing/work time total per morning
  • An artist date (video games!)
  • Wrote a blog post (this!)
  • Wrote three chapters of my young adult fantasy book (YES!)
  • Spent Saturday morning brainstorming
  • Submitted a short story for critiques
  • Posted to my author Instagram account
  • Research for my book
  • Finished the book “Still Writing” by Dani Shapiro and loved it.
  • Came up with a new idea for a cozy mystery series