building momentum

Every act of creating is a stroke of the blade that sharpens the tool of your passion. You might not know what that is yet, but every creative action will bring that much more clarity to what fulfills you.

Lately I feel listless, frustrated, and directionless. I always want to make the most of the days that I don’t have to be at my day job, but without a clear-cut goal I have no idea where to start. What am I doing with my life? I still can’t get myself to write blog posts. I don’t know what to say, so this listlessness must be rooted in a fear that my voice is meaningless. I think I’ve also put too much pressure on myself to be successful at something outside of work so that I can quit my job as soon as possible. Every morning I dread going to work. I go in just hoping to have enough energy by the end of my shift to come home and work on something I want to do, even if only for a brief period of time before my husband comes home. This is no way to gain momentum. But I guess I have to start somewhere. Just do anything, I keep telling myself. I feel like I’m wasting time.

I know I shouldn’t be checking my email before I do my daily write, but I got an email from a writer whose newsletter I recently subscribed to. “Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t overthink it. Just do the next right thing.” —Michael Hyatt. It’s about his most recent podcast episode, which is super relevant to what I’m feeling right now. It’s about regaining momentum when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

In this episode, you’ll discover:
• Why the big picture is the last thing you should focus on when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
• One of the fastest ways to develop momentum when you’re stuck—it’s simpler than you think.
• The difference between your areas of concern and influence—and why the distinction is critical to keeping your momentum.
• Why comparison can be a momentum killer.
• How to avoid the pitfalls of overthinking and underacting.
This is exactly where I’m at. I’m thinking big picture instead of just doing, and it’s psyching me out. Also, I’m holding myself up to others’ standards and trying to live up, which makes me feel like a failure and keeps me from trying. That’s ironic, since my last blog post was about just getting it out there instead of being paralyzed by the desire to be perfect. I tend to look down on people who don’t give 100%, but isn’t that still better than giving 0% because you’re afraid your efforts will only amount to 75? JUST DO. Any action you feel like doing will be a step in the right direction. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to get started. Do anything. Feel like doing a pastel on paper? Do it. Fell like making a Shrinky Dink? Do it. Feel like practicing your lettering? Do it. Feel like writing a haiku? DO. IT. Every act of creating is a stroke of the blade that sharpens the tool of your passion. You might not know what that is yet, but every creative action will bring that much more clarity to what fulfills you. The world’s shortest sentence gets the point across perfectly: Do.
When I’m at work wishing the day was over, I try to pay attention to what it is I’m itching to do as soon as I get home. It always seems to be something different, and I almost never end up doing it. Maybe I’ll start a habit of immediately writing down what it is I hope to do when I get home. This won’t be a “to-do” list, but rather a list from which I hope to discern a pattern over time. What is it that I consistently have a desire to do, even if I don’t make myself do it? If there’s a pattern, I need to follow through with action. No comparing myself to anyone else, no trying to fit it into the bigger picture, no overthinking. Just do it. Then do it again. Then keep doing it until you have so much momentum that you’re an unstoppable force, even if at first that thing seems mundane or meaningless in the moment. It doesn’t have to be meaningful now. If it’s something you enjoy and can keep doing consistently, that consistency is what’s going to prove worthwhile. Show up. Do. Ship it. Repeat.

Even the act of posting this, even though it’s very far from 100%, is building momentum. It may not be perfect; it may not even be good. But if it helps one person–even if that person is just me–then it’s a step in the right direction. Show up. Do. Ship it. Repeat.

one hundred percent of zero

i’ve been listening to the seanwes podcast a lot lately and it has been literally life-changing. it has motivated me to figure out what i should be doing with my life (while i keep my day job and try not to let it crush my soul). it’s amazing how the wisdom from the podcast simultaneously gives me the gumption to be professional and gives me the encouragement i need to keep me from despairing about where i am now. the overlap technique eases my mind about my current job, which i am feeling ready to transition out of, but am reluctant to leave because at the heart of it i still enjoy the work itself.

however, when i have a day off, i have all this optimistic energy leading up into it and all these plans for a productive day. inevitably, when the day comes, i waste it because i feel frustrated with my lack of direction. the things i intend to do to push my life forward are great on paper, but are so grey and undefined when i’m actually in it, trying to feel like i accomplished something. all that energy from the day before quickly fizzles out. my last day off i started a plan for writing a series of children’s books, and got really fired up about it. that was three days ago, and that excitement is already gone.

meh

so what in the world will keep me interested enough to stick with? i know i love writing. even just putting out a long overdue blog post gives me some satisfaction. so i started thinking about re-vamping my website and updating all of the photos of things i’ve made and improving the web presence before the next wave of art and craft show applications. i think i would feel better about my website/blog/shop–and general online presence for my personal “brand”–if they were all integrated. i think i’d feel a better sense of direction if everything i do, however eclectic, was all on one platform. if i get in the habit of contributing content regularly, i will pay attention to the rest of my brand, since it will all be there in plain sight of anyone who may read the blog post i just shared. making it public will hopefully give me the incentive to be more professional, intentional, and regular with creating content. if i create a risk of being seen by more people, i’ll make sure my stuff is good enough to be seen.

this ties in with the fear of success under the disguise of fear of failure, i think. if i stay under the radar, then i don’t run the risk of having a large audience. my failures are less public. if i have no audience, there’s no pressure to create more content or to make a great presentation of what’s already out there. if i start curating what goes out, make the content excellent and valuable–and do it regularly–more people will see it and have expectations of me. then i would have to keep creating new and better content. i would have direction and motivation. that sounds like success. i want to create regularly, but how could i possibly handle people expecting me to create something regularly? why is this totally irrational fear such a strong reality for creative types?

the lack of expectation/direction/pressure is what keeps me from creating content outside of my day job. i don’t feel this kind of anxiety and fear at my day job. why is that? maybe because it’s not personal, although i always feel that any work one does is a reflection of their work ethic. i’m not okay with putting out sub-par work, but i am okay with something being 75-80% as good as it could be in the interest of being timely. if it gets the job done and there isn’t realistically time to get it to 100%, i just call it done and get it out there. it will serve its purpose better now at 75% than it will at 100% if it’s too late.

maybe that’s another catch-22 about creating my own work: i have all the time i need outside of work to do 100% on something, because there’s no expectation and no deadline. but there’s also no direction and no urgency. i can do 100% on anything i want. so much freedom! okay…ummm…what do i want to make? i have no earthly idea.

and maybe part of that is the unspoken pressure to make it 100%, even though you don’t even have so much as an idea for a starting point. wouldn’t 75% of anything be better than 100% of nothing? what are you afraid of? seventy-five is a success compared to zero. that’s an excuse created by you disguised as fear of failure. your brain somehow can’t let you accept that there’s value in just getting something started, even if you abandon it for something else. at least you learned something and it caused you to do the other thing. now you know the first thing didn’t hold your interest and you can move on and be one step closer to finding what you love to do. and if that thing comes to only 75% of your expectations, great! you have time to improve on it. because you don’t have a following yet, you have the freedom to explore and the luxury of no pressure.

75 0

i’m great at sabotaging myself. my fear of success is strong. when craft fair season rolls around, i always panic that i haven’t really done anything new since the last cycle of shows. i don’t really want to do the show anyway, but i can’t live with myself if i don’t apply. so i reluctantly apply, submitting a 75% quality application at best, knowing and somewhat hoping that i won’t get accepted. and every time, i get the email: congratulations, you’re in! and every time, my reaction is: oh shit, now i have to make a bunch of stuff. part of me was hoping for rejection because it alleviates me of the responsibility of making new product, while avoiding the guilt of not even applying (which would be not even trying–putting out 0%–which is the same as failure).

if your 75% was good enough to get you in, then that means that your 75% is as good as or better than every single person who even bothered to apply. so just start something. if you’re too paralyzed by fear to even start something, unrealistic expectations of yourself may be holding you back. that resistance is all internal. you’d love to exonerate yourself from putting anything out there, but if you even 75% like something you created, then it will be valuable or at least enjoyable to someone else. are you worried that your stuff is stupid or not worthy of someone’s attention? look at the internet. there’s no shortage of room for stupid, and stupid gets a lot of attention. there’s room in the world for your creations, and the world needs what you have to offer. anything that was worthy of your own time and effort will only add to the good. because you’re the type of person to have these anxieties, you are probably also the kind of person whose 75% exceeds many others’ 100%. so put it out there. it’s probably better than you think.

 

“some people might look at you funny, and that’s okay. we painters are happier than most, so that’s alright.” –Bob Ross

on love, hate, and tolerance

There are a few things in my life about which I don’t have a definitive stance. I don’t fall neatly into a political party, Christian denomination, or even job description. And I’m okay with that. There are places in life with wiggle room, things that don’t really affect my general worldview. Even doctrinally, I still don’t hold an opinion on whether I believe Christ decended into Hell, for instance. There are a few passages of Scripture that mention it, and it seemed to be important enough to a few early churches to included in their Creeds. But I don’t find enough context within those few verses to form a solid stance, so that belief is neutral in my book. I don’t think my opinion on the matter affects God’s opinion of me, nor does it affect how I go about my job as a person who loves God and others.

This holds true regarding my stance on gay marriage, also. I don’t think it affects my salvation or the way I “do Christianity”, so I waive my opinion in favor of just loving people. I don’t think God docks points for that. There are times that I feel definite hatred toward individual people, but I always know in my heart of hearts that I’m being a horrible human being if I hold on to that attitude. There’s no regret in having been tender-hearted, even if you don’t have the energy or don’t feel like the recipient is especially deserving of your kindness. This is the essence of our responsibility, and always has been. God didn’t destroy Sodom because of homosexuality. He destroyed it because of inhospitality. Instead of being gracious hosts to their guests, the citizens of Sodom took advantage of and indiscriminately raped their visitors.

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. Ezekiel 16:49

They were arrogant, overfed, and too lazy and selfish to lift a finger for those in need . God was pretty pissed about their inability to be loving and accepting of others, even temporarily. They burned because of complacency, not butt sex. Nowhere in this story does God think it’s gross that a man was deeply committed to a loving relationship with another man. There IS no love in Sodom. They were bored, soft, arrogant people who raped and raped and didn’t care whom. It’s important to keep everything in context, not only as far as the spirit of what’s communicated in Scripture, but also in how we are expected to behave in the broader scope of God’s purpose for us as His followers.

Some people want to split hairs over Old Testament regulations, forgetting that Christ came to do away with all of that nonsense. If you claim to follow Christ, you have one job: love God and people. That’s it. That doesn’t mean agreeing with everyone on everything or adopting their political views or lifestyle. It means accepting that we are all sinners, but we are also all made in the image of God.

The congregants of Emanuel African Baptist Church exercised the kind of hospitality God expected of Sodom when a stranger with nothing in common with them wanted to sit in on their prayer group. One key difference between Dylan Roof and the God-fearing people he killed is that they were operating under the spirit of the law–the Gospel, which tells us to love others–whereas Roof was guided by an ideology. Ideologies, separated from love, are divisive, harmful, and antithetical to the Gospel.

If the fact that someone is gay or black or left-wing is a personal affront to you, your marriage, or your religion, then you may want to spend some time in deep reflection and ask yourself if you’re adding to the hatred. Someone you don’t agree with is just granted the same rights that you have known your whole life and didn’t have to struggle for. Because of this, you threaten to get a divorce, set yourself on fire, or become an assassin because your religion can’t accept that God doesn’t hate gay or black people? If someone thought a sports team was a threat to their marriage and declared that they would get a divorce if another team won, wouldn’t we would recognize that as insanity and childish beyond all reason? It’s arrogant, and there is no love in it.

I see nothing but love in the reactions of both South Carolina’s congregants and same-sex couples who can finally and publicly honor their commitment to one another. Someone actually really wants to enter the sacred institution after the horrible example many heteros have made of it? They want to declare to everyone that they plan to sleep with each other exclusively? They’re deeply, madly, ready-to-stand-up-to-big-government in love? Well, hooray! I certainly don’t feel like my marriage is in any way under attack because of this.

Many wish to squelch that love just because they don’t like the package it comes in. We can accept people without agreeing with everything they believe. If you have a belief that you’re on the fence about, it’s okay to put that belief on hold. Err in favor of kindness. Not having a stance on gay marriage isn’t going to keep you out of heaven. But hating people? I’m pretty sure God is not a fan of that. It’s not our job to only love people we agree with one hundred percent. It’s our job to love people.

crazy-makers and boundaries

I know I’ve been turning a cold shoulder to the muse when it’s been so long that I’ve even written a blog post, much less given time to creative endeavors. This is usually a good indicator that I’ve allowed my creative energy to be sapped by other things.

Do you ever go through times in which certain things and/or people get under your skin just a little more than usual? Julia Cameron calls these “crazy-makers,” and they can sabotage you like a pro. These are people who can really push your buttons and manipulate you in ways that they may not even be aware of.
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I have a particularly formidable crazy-maker in my life. The tough thing about this one is that they are completely unaware of their power over my sanity, because anything I say either bounces off or is filtered through a crazy sponge and twisted into something far from what was said. This has gone on so long that I’ve gone through several different permutations of distancing myself from this person in an attempt to create healthy boundaries for myself. But I’ve gone about it all wrong, and instead have made myself a part of the problem.

I’ve come to realize a few things about dealing with crazy-makers:
1. Try not to burn bridges. Cutting ties with them isn’t the answer. Sometimes this isn’t even a possibility. But no matter how much they get under your skin, it’s important to be respectful, kind, and to evaluate whether it’s worth ending a friendship altogether.
2. Communicate. They may not know how they’re treating you. Be honest–but considerate!–in communicating the boundaries you need to set with them. If they’re a friend worth keeping, they should be open to hearing you out.
3. You may not be able to change how they treat you, but you can maintain your beliefs about how each of you deserves to be treated. You control how you respond to them and are responsible for your own attitude and perspective. Ultimately, they can’t make you crazy if you don’t give them the power to do so.

I much too frequently have to remind myself that the golden rule applies universally. I need to step back and ask Are my feelings toward this person fair, even if I feel I’ve been treated unfairly? More often than not, perception can distort the best of intentions. Try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that they’re not out to sabotage you. And in those moments when your number one crazy-maker seems truly hell – bent on keeping that title, remind your brain not to give them that power, and err on the side of kindness.

joan didion, mind-reader

originally prompted by julia cameron’s concept of ‘morning pages,’ i have returned to my habit of trying to knock out 500 words in my notebook every morning, however mundane the subject matter. invariably, my entries remain so mundane that i become rather embarrassed and begin to question the benefit of such an exercise. but i keep at it, because so much of writing is making time for it, developing the habit, showing up to the work. get out the nonsense while developing the routine of writing, eventually making room for your creative voice to make itself heard.

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so the muse, in her infinite wisdom, must have seen fit to give me a token of reassurance that this undertaking is not in vain. i’m fortunate enough to often be able to listen to my ipod for a few hours at work. i’m obsessed with a handful of podcasts, not the least of which includes Selected Shorts, a collection of short stories performed live on stage. Today I listened to Parker Posy read Joan Didion’s essay “On Keeping a Notebook.”

Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.

“yes. go on…” said my brain.

How it felt to me: that is getting closer to the truth about a notebook. I sometimes delude myself about why I keep a notebook, imagine that some thrifty virtue derives from preserving everything observed. See enough and write it down, I tell myself, and then some morning when the world seems drained of wonder, some day when I am only going through the motions of doing what I am supposed to do, which is write — on that bankrupt morning I will simply open my notebook and there it will all be, a forgotten account with accumulated interest, paid passage back to the world out there…

this is how i feel about keeping a notebook. it’s not the same as keeping a journal. i do not merely recount things that happen from day to day. i’m free to write whatever i like, even though it is often very dull and seems pointless to commit to paper. but i do enjoy going back and reading the stupid little things that i, at one point, did commit to paper because some part of my brain saw fit to remember it in the first place. even though the insecure “rearranger” in me cringes, there’s something less lonely in the remembering.

our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable “I.” We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensees; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its marker.

she continues that even if the notebook keeper doesn’t herself know the meaning of what she writes, there is merit in the exercise. it benefits the writer to be fanciful and without censor, because it belongs to no one else.

thanks for the nudge, Joan. and happy belated 79th.

back on the wagon and the big three-oh

i’ve been hearing it a lot lately, but never thought all the hype could be true: being 30 rocks so much harder than your 20s ever did.

a month-and-a-half in, i’m realizing how true that actually may be. i not only feel like more of a woman than a girl, i feel like more of an artist than someone hoping to be an artist. i don’t know if cutting off all my hair made me feel more artistic looking, of if it just gave me a bit of a confidence boost because i just went ahead and did something i felt like doing. either way, i feel more secure than i have at any other point in my life. over the last year or two, i’ve found myself caring less and less what others think of me.

in a good way.

with that twenty-something angst finally banished from my psyche, i now feel more freed up to be myself and be happy in my own skin. comparison no longer steals my joy. the approval of others doesn’t dictate what i allow myself to attempt. i’m healthy, i’m happy, and while i could stand to lose a few pounds, i’m not obsessing over my figure. i’m becoming less uptight about things in general.

in the words of tyler durden, i have found the ability to let that which does not matter truly slide.

not to pile on the cliches, but this is my year. it’s my year to create without fear of failure or judgment. it’s my year to flourish in my relationships. it’s my year for the adventurer in me to stop being afraid. it’s my year to stop letting anything about my past, present, or body image hold me back. to quit being a wallflower for fear of scaring people with my real personality. it’s my year to slide.

 

 

in other news, you know what else turned 30 this year? reading rainbow, my little pony, cabbage patch kids, care bears, microsoft word, the camcorder, and the moonwalk. all awesome.

manifesto

I sat down to sketch, but able to draw no more than a blank, I consulted the internet for a prompt. I came across a prompt to write out five of my core beliefs, then illustrate one of them. What resulted was more of a top ten ideas by which I live. Below–in no really particular order–are the first things that came to mind in a roughly 20-minute window.

1.  I believe in a loving Creator who designed us beautifully to be His imitators.

2. I believe that Christ is the Son of God, who gave His life to save a f***ed up and otherwise irredeemable world.

3. I believe that people are more important than ideas. Ideas, while important, are useless in a vacuum. I believe in social justice because people are basically good and worth saving (otherwise, of what value is belief #2?).

4. I believe in hard work and integrity–being excellent when no one is looking.

5. I believe that we ought to be good stewards of our planet, living as simply and naturally as possible.

6. I believe in a limited government, by the people and for the people.

7. I believe that honesty is always the best policy. The truth wins out in the end, and it is better to err on the side of greater good.

8. I believe there is tremendous power in beauty.

9. (I am in the process of believing) many failed attempts are necessary steps toward excellence. The only true failure is inaction. If you show up to the task, rewards will follow, even if the initial outcome (or several hundred outcomes) are not what you had desired.

10. I believe that all thought and action must be motivated by love (ultimately of God, and everything else for the sake of loving Him). I create because I love. I do the best I can at my job because I love. I seek justice because I love. I vote because I love. I enjoy the fruits of the earth because I love. I have arguments with my husband because I love. I believe in being unpopular and respectfully disagreeing with others out of love. I show up to the daily tasks of life and hope it will eventually result in goodness, truth and beauty because all that stirs me to move and breathe and be is love. As a citizen of this world longing for the next, I know no other stimulus to continue in the task of being human.