Try-This Tuesday: Take Notice Of The Extraordinary In The Every-Day

The majority of us would like to release our creativity and free our Selves from the structure of our daily routines.  Time is a big issue for most of us and this was addressed last week in Time To Make A Change and Try-This Tuesday:  Gaining Control Of Your Time.

I can think of other blocks that I put up for myself.  (Note:  a block is only a block if you make it a block and in general, blocks can be removed as much as they can be put up!)  Maybe you can relate?  One such “block” is that my life is fairly routine and the activities I’m involved in don’t include jet-setting, extreme sports, serving in ashrams or hanging out in different parts of town, meeting strange and wonderful people.  It’s hard to imagine that I could find inspiration to feed my creative Self when I am toting the kids to their extracurricular activities or play dates, cooking dinner, feeding them etc. 

But I can if I want to.  If I can just get outside of my own head long enough to notice a moment – a verbal or facial expression, a determined beetle crawling in and out of the sidewalk’s crevices, the sunlight filtering in through the trees in my backyard – I can twist any of these experiences into:

  • A character sketch for a great piece of fiction
  • A storyline for a children’s book
  • A poem
  • A journal entry
  • The first sentence of a free-writing session
  • A writing prompt for my monthly writing group
  • A sketch
  • A painting or colouring activity with my daughter
  • A song to make up for my son (who really doesn’t care what I’m singing or how I sound as long as I’m smiling at him)

How’s that for a list of ideas for creative exploration?

Sometimes it takes an extra step to get out of our heads or to shake things up a little so that we are able to notice these little moments that can bring forth masterpieces.  And yes, I think a silly little ditty about a beetle looking for a playmate can be a masterpiece!  People make their livings writing and singing about such things!

So, what can YOU do to consciously notice the extraordinary in the every-day?  TAKE A PICTURE!!   With the luxury we have of digital cameras, teeny-tiny picture snappers that can fit in coat pockets and purses, we can’t think of many excuses to not carry one around.  Not to mention the fact that most phones now come with a camera.  Take one day this week and decide to take your camera around everywhere you go.  Give yourself a quota of how many pictures you’d like to take.  Make 3 your minimum.  Snap pics at the grocery store, on your walk, in your living room, anywhere you go.  Do it consciously and think about what you are capturing as you do it.  Is it the raindrops on the spiderweb or the spider itself?  Is it the spaghetti sauce on your son’s face or the mischief in his eye?  What is the remarkable component that speaks to you?  In other words, why did you take the picture? 

At the end of the day, view the photos you’ve taken (on the camera or on the computer) and see if you can use that picture to inspire any of the ideas I generated above.  Not sure where to start?  Pull out your journal or your task binder and ask yourself:

  • What caught my eye about this moment?
  • What is the theme embedded in this picture? (Remember we talked about themes previously.)
  • How did it feel to be consciously aware of my surroundings?
  • Do I see myself doing this again at some point?

These questions will be logged with the other prompts.  Need help or have a question?  I’m listening!

Introducing: The Old Man Who Lives In My Head

Everyone’s got one; some of us know ours well, others of us are just getting acquainted.  I’m referring to what Julia Cameron calls the Censor in her book, The Artist’s Way.  She describes it perfectly as “our own internalized perfectionist, a nasty internal and eternal critic” (p. 11).

Censors have voices and they say awful things.  Their sole purpose is to take us down!  They make us feel inadequate and discourage us from continuing on, even in the face of success.  They invade our thoughts during our creative process – when I’m trying to think of a great way to write something, my Censor will tell me that someone else has already said it, and has said it better.  How rude!  It’s a horrible thing to hear when I’m sitting at the computer, full of hope that my words will reach people.  I can’t tell you how many times I hear mine telling me I am too old to start a new career, or that I’ve lost my chance to get to the level of fitness I’d like.  It’d be nice if I could evict my Censor from that logical left brain of mine where he’s made himself comfortable over the years.

I’ve discovered that getting to know him a bit – why he is the way he is, understanding that what he’s saying is NOT coming from a place of Truth – has helped me stick my tongue out at him when he shows his face.

My Censor looks like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons.  He’s 100 years old, gnarled and warty with a look of evil glee every time he spouts a new put-down at me.  Since getting to know him, I’ve learned he is lonely, unloved and bitter about his own existence.  His derogatory comments don’t really have anything to do with ME so what he’s saying is not true.  I just happen to be the lucky recipient of his anguish.  This makes him way less intimidating, doesn’t it?  It doesn’t make it easier to hear the things he has to say, especially if it’s feeding my own fear, but it does make it more possible to ignore his comments.

I would encourage you to notice your own Censor and see him/her/it for what it is.  What does it look like?  What kinds of negative things does it tell you?  What is your reaction when you hear them?  It’s worth exploring your Censor in your journal or in your task binder – whatever you’ve created to help you in your journey.  Sketch a profile of your Censor if you wish.  Some people like to keep their Censor visible where they work creatively…marked with a big, fat, red X, of course, to remind themselves that their Censor is actually someone to be censored!  I’ll log these prompts with the others.  Any questions or comments?  I’d love to hear them!

The Best Love Letter I Ever Wrote

When my friend came to me with questions about journalling, I was thrilled to have a chance to talk about something I am so passionate about.  For me, writing in my journal is the beginning and the end.  I started keeping a journal in 1988 at the age of 10 and continued writing through high school and much of university.  I didn’t feel my day was complete or that I was grounded until I pulled out my journal and a medium point pen.  I carried my journal with me so that between university classes when I had 2 or 4 hours to kill, I’d have a chance to connect with my thoughts.

High school was a trying period for me.  A lot of people go through some kind of angst during these hormonal, often lonely years; I definitely would not go back for anything.  But what kept me from feeling completely alone was my writing, because every time I opened up my journal I was saying hello to a non-judgemental, loving friend – someone who accepted me for who I was.

Just as in university when I felt pulled to sit down and make a list, in high school I had the same urge to sit down (literally, in the hallway) and write myself a letter.  I pictured myself as a 5 year old child and wrote loving, comforting, gentle words – kind of a verbal hug – to this sad, lonely little girl.  I praised myself for things of which I felt I was deserving, I told myself it was OK to feel the way I did and I reminded myself that I would one day have more control in my life to be who I am inside.  After writing that letter, I felt a peace blanket me and it helped me carry on with my day.  Actually, remembering that moment makes me extremely thankful that I had somehow innately known of this tool and that is why I am so passionate about spreading the word, so to speak, about the therapeutic effects of writing.   Now I can see clearly why, when I unconsciously turned my back on writing, I really felt the loss.

If you journal, what does this type of connective writing mean to you?  Who are you talking to when you write this way?  Have you ever written a letter to yourself as a child?  If not, would you consider it?

If you haven’t started journalling yet, what reservations do you have about it, if any?

I’m happy to hear your comments here or via the contact page.  I’m just as happy if this prompts you to start thinking about connecting with your Self through the written word!

Try-This Tuesday: Gaining Control Of Your Time

Since the launch of this blog, and even prior to that when I began coaching a friend in journal writing, I have heard expressions like “I hope I can find time to do these tasks”, “I wish I had the time to make a list”, and “I’ll have to see if I can schedule it in.”  Well, here’s a fact:  if you want to do something, you can.  If you want to find the time, you can.  I’m not saying it’s easy or that it’s not work.  I’m just saying it’s do-able.  The first step is having the courage to say you are willing to do it, along with the work that it entails.

I work full-time, mostly from home.  My work week is Monday – Sunday (because really, what parent has a day “off”?) and it consists of the following:

  • Being a mother to a 4 year old girl and a 1.5 year old boy – this includes everything from daily living care to appointments to activities to providing entertainment and learning opportunities etc.
  • Being a speech therapist to a small caseload of clients who I see from my home office.
  • Being a writer – I have 3 blog-babies as I call them (The Artist’s Loft, The Finer Things in Life and of course, Let ME Out!!), I recently snagged my first freelance writing gig, I practice my craft through exercises and by entering contests and I check in with my Self regularly through my journal.
  • Being a volunteer event host and fundraiser for Pandora’s Collective – I host a monthly writing series, write grant applications and fundraise for our annual festival.

I also really value my family and friends and spend a good deal of my time maintaining these relationships.

Your week is equally demanding and you wear just as many, if not more, hats.  No matter what we do professionally and recreationally, finding time to sit down with our Self and check in or engage in personal development activities can be challenging!

Before we can go further then, we need to analyze where our time is going!  You have 1440 minutes in a day – how are you spending them?  Things change day to day and week to week, but on average, what does your typical weekday look like?  And your typical weekend day?

THIS WEEK’S TASK encourages you to sit down and chart an average weekday and an average weekend day – accounting for all 24 hours (so, yes, make a note of when you sleep!).  Add some more looseleaf paper to the binder you started last week with your list, or grab the notebook you are keeping all of your tasks in, and chart in whichever way is most comfortable.  Me, I prefer a good old-fashioned chart of two columns 1) time and 2) activity.  Other people may like plotting their days on a pie chart, a graph or incorporating their words within a doodle.  Use colour if you like!

Once you have the data in front of you, see where you can take small chunks of time out here and there.

 

OK, I can hear you asking me where you are supposed to find the time to do this activity!  Here are some suggestions I put together based on my own life.  If you have other suggestions or would like to share your personal tips on how you find some ME time, please share them here as a comment or contact me.  Thanks!

Here they are:

  1.  I wake up even 15 minutes earlier than I normally do – if I take 5 minutes to use the bathroom and drink a glass of water, I have 10 minutes to write!  This doesn’t throw my day off significantly and I’ve just started the day off doing something that’s just for ME!  However, as noted yesterday, I have children who are very light sleepers so sometimes this backfires on me and my day ends up starting earlier only so that I can take care of my two munchkins for an extra 15 minutes that day…so, really, I’m not counting on my mornings every time.
  2. When the kids have gone to bed at night, most nights, my husband and I have about 2 hours together before we’re ready for bed.  Of those 2 hours, half an hour to 45 minutes goes into cleaning/housekeeping/paying bills etc and the rest of the time we watch TV or talk.  I can take 15 minutes at least out of this time (especially the TV time) to write.
  3. The high school babysitter – what a great invention!  Cheap but quality childcare!  I have a high school girl (highly recommended to me by a trusted friend/mom) who comes over for 4 hours a week and plays with the kids.  She even feeds and waters them while I get time to work without a child hanging on to me.  Our babysitter has energy, creativity and a wonderful way with both kids.  They are happy and so am I.  The key for me is to make my writing a priority.  Writing is my passion but it is also my work.  I enjoy it so much that I used to feel guilty for “indulging” in it.  I used to feel bad that someone else is watching my kids while I have fun!  It is way too easy to justify getting everything else done (laundry, dishes, cooking) but I know that if I do that, at the end of the day I am annoyed that I didn’t give myself a chance to write.  NOBODY IN MY HOUSE WANTS ME TO BE ANNOYED!  So in order to not spend my babysitter time cooking, I make Wednesdays “easy-meal” night or I make enough dinner on Tuesdays so that we have leftovers the next day.
  4. Grandparent day!  Tuesdays are a piece of heaven for me when my dad comes over shortly after breakfast and stays through dinner.  In fact, Tuesdays are a weekday highlight for everyone involved, including my husband.  Yes, he is at work while my dad is watching the kids but he comes home to a happy wife which makes his workday just a little less stressful, too!  While my dad is here, I see a speech therapy client or two and do some of my non-profit work.  Tuesdays are also my prime writing day (Try-This Tuesday was strategically selected!)
  5. I send my husband out to play!  Specifically, to play soccer.  This happens 1-2 times a week, usually after dinner.  I love him to bits and value our time together which is why when he’s around I don’t always feel like spending hours in my studio.  BUT if he is out, and the kids are asleep…well, that’s a no-brainer!  I’m heading STRAIGHT for my studio!

So, looking at your data, can you skip a particular TV show to take a knitting class?  Can you limit your time playing video games so that you have an extra half hour at the end of the day to read a novel?  Maybe press snooze one less time and use those beautiful 9 minutes to sit in silence at the beginning of your day?

HAVE FUN WITH THIS!  This is not just a homework assignment – this is your time to be creative, learn about your Self and do something you don’t typically do!  And if you take the time to do it, you may benefit by finding more time during your typical week just for YOU!

You Have A List – Now What??

If you did the “Try-This” Tuesday task this week, you’re wondering what to do with the list of words I asked you to generate.  First, I’d like you to think about how you felt when these words were coming to you:*

  • Did you have to think really hard to come up with the words?
  • Did it get easier as you went along?
  • Did you catch yourself smiling or feeling happier during the activity?
  • Did any of these words remind you of a special memory or time in your life?

After a few moments with your thoughts, let’s switch over to the left brain (our logical, organization-loving hemisphere)…and let’s ORGANIZE!!  The idea is to group these words into themes so that you can see which themes bring you joy!

A few examples of themes are:  Family, Nature, Physical, Spirituality, Arts, Beauty, Wellness

It was easier for me to skim over the words and decide which ones go together and then name the themes after.  As I look at my list now, the following words jumped out at me as belonging together under the theme Nature:

1)      cabin

2)      camping

3)       tents

4)      sleeping bags

5)       hiking

6)      the sun

7)       fresh air

8)      flowers

9)      plants

If I had just grouped the first 5 words together, I could call the group “camping” but because a theme is a very BIG umbrella, I can include the other 4 words and they can all live happily under the theme Nature.  You may have a theme that I have not mentioned above – that’s great!  I’d appreciate it if you could give me that feedback either by posting a comment or contacting me.

So, the idea is to think BIG – this will help you have fewer groups and give you a general feel for what makes YOU tick.  Once you get started organizing your list, you may find this comes fairly easily.  However, if you are having trouble, please contact me.  This can be a very revealing exercise and I would be happy to answer any questions to help you along.

Once your list is organized into themes, take notice of the following:*

  • Is there one theme that contains significantly more words than the others?
  • Highlight the two themes that contain the most words
  • How do your “top” theme(s) resonate with you?  Are you surprised?  Did you know all along that you had a particular passion for said theme?
  • Are you doing anything in your life at this time that reflects this passion?

*When you answer the questions posed in this post, you may want to get out your journal or whatever paper form feels best to you and jot your thoughts down.  I will be keeping a log of all of these questions on the Writing Prompts page so that you can refer to the questions and find the corresponding posts easily, where applicable.  (Sometimes I will just post writing prompts that don’t correspond to a particular post).

Happy organizing!

How My List Was Born

Yesterday I posted my first weekly assignment, known as “Try-This Tuesday“, and I want to share with you a bit of background on how I came up with my own list.

Previously, I explained to you how I had started feeling uneasy around the time I was to graduate with my B.A. in Psychology and Linguistics.  I was too afraid to explore this feeling because I did not want it to reveal that I was headed in the wrong direction, career-wise.  I had decided I was going to be a speech-language pathologist 4 years prior, and I most certainly did not want to deviate from this plan.  I felt that if I did, I would be “behind” on my life goals.

But that part of me that was trying to speak up prompted me to sit down in a quiet corner of the Women’s Centre at my university, with a sheet of paper and a pen (my best buds) and I started making a list of things that made me happy, excited me, interested me…people, places, objects, activities.  I’m not sure how long I sat there (remember, this was about 10 years ago) but when I felt I had finished, I had 3 columns of words written in green ink.

Here’s what I did next:  I folded up the piece of paper until it fit neatly in the palm of my hand and stuffed it into my journal where it lived for the next several years.  I did not recognize this desire to make a list as my own plea for help, a cry to take a moment and look around wide-eyed, clear-headed, and open-minded!  But that’s OK.  Realizing this now has given me the faith that I need to have in my Self – the faith to know that as long as I am open to it, I am presented with guidance and direction from within, always!  And so are you!

And YOU, dear Readers, will actually do something with these beautiful words that represent YOU!!  I’ll give you a suggestion tomorrow on what you can do with your list…be sure to hang on to it as we will refer to it numerous times throughout this journey.

Try-This Tuesday: Make A List

“Try-This” Tuesday is short for “I strongly suggest you try this exercise today, which is Tuesday, or at least within the next 24 hours.”  But I think Try-This Tuesday will suffice!  My hope in offering these weekly suggestions is that they give you a practical, tangible tool that will bring you another step closer to remembering and releasing your creative Self.

You may want to keep all of your Tuesday tasks together in a spiral notebook, or if you’re using looseleaf paper you may want to gather them in a binder.  You will reference these tasks throughout your journey.

For today’s task, you will need paper, pen and a minimum of 10 minutes of uninterrupted time.  Sit down somewhere comfortable and make a list of things, people, places, and activities – ANYTHING that comes to your mind that you find interesting, enjoyable or in any way positive.  Don’t analyze or judge the words that are coming out.  Just write.  You may hear a voice telling you that some of the words you are generating are silly or inappropriate.  Ignore that voice.  That’s your Censor – we have no use for it.  I will definitely introduce my Censor to you and ask you to have a few words with your own in the next little while.  But for this task, push it away if it intrudes on your fun by not giving it the time of day!

When you feel your list is complete, or when your child creeps downstairs from bed with his latest reason for not being able to sleep, put your list away (but keep it accessible) and come back to it over the next couple days, adding new items as needed but not removing any.  It may actually be easier to keep a smaller notebook on you or even a sheet of looseleaf folded up and tucked in your pocket – something you can pull out wherever you are, when a word enters your head that should be on your list.  You can always transfer these words to your original list later.

HAVE FUN WITH THIS!  The feedback that I have received from other people who have tried this task is that it is enjoyable and I am sure you will have the same experience!

On Thursday, I will ask you to do something with this list – stay tuned!

 

When ME Went “Missing”

My ME went “missing” over time.  I know that I started feeling unsettled when I was about to graduate with my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Linguistics.  I had some very panicky moments when I allowed myself to think that I may not be pursuing the right career for me.  I felt I was in too deep – I had already invested 5 years in post-secondary education, I had already been working for almost as long with children with special needs and my application to the communicative disorders program in Ontario had just been accepted; I was moving in the fall.  To change courses at that point was scary beyond belief when everyone around me seemed so sure of where they were headed.  (Now I know this to be utter garbage!!  It is NEVER too late to change courses – especially when you are considering changes that allow YOU to shine and experience that special kind of happiness!)

I was also pretty good at my work with these children; most of the time I followed my own intuition to engage with them and picked up necessary skills by observing more advanced therapists.  In those moments that I allowed myself to even think that there might be other options out there for me, I felt lost.  And I didn’t want to feel lost.  I wanted to know exactly what my plan was and how I was going to achieve it.  There was a certain expectation placed on me – externally and internally – that by a particular stage in life I should have some kind of conventional and secure career in place.  If I veered from my plan at the age of 23 then I was going to completely miss the mark.  Even as I type this I am cringing!  Here I am, exactly 10 years later, finally allowing myself to look at my other options!  But it is what it is and I don’t regret the journey I chose at that point and I will share why in a future post.

As I continued to follow what was not my career of passion, I lost a little more ME along the way.  When I got married at 25 I felt I didn’t need much of a ME because now there was “us.”  Though I married my best friend, I now know that without ME the relationship is not as completely satisfying or as healthy as it can be.  Then when I became a MOM…well, I just didn’t think moms had MEs!  I certainly did not see my mom as having a ME – she was just Mom and she lived her short life in service of others, particularly her children.  Looking back now, I see her interests in singing and dancing as clear as day.  But those were such miniscule parts of her life that they were easy for me to miss.  So in 2007 when I gave birth to my beautiful baby girl, my ME officially went “missing.”  And within the next year I would be sucked into a downward spiral that would force me to reach deep into my reserves to find my way out.

 

The Shadow Artist

Like you, I am surrounded by wonderfully talented, creative people.  Often, these people’s talents seem to jump right out of them and dance in front of me while the possessor appears oblivious.  Comments I make about their skills and what I believe are their obvious passions may be shrugged off or appear to go unheard.  And this used to really bug me until I learned a little more about myself and why I threw the spotlight on other people’s talents and why I dared not venture into the light myself.

I was a shadow artist.  I mean, I was a classic case!  I came to this realization in the first part of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron in which she describes this phenomenon; it was like looking in a mirror as I read her words – a very clean, gleaming, can’t-hide-anything-from-me kind of mirror.  A shadow artist encourages and supports other artists (in my case, vehemently) while ignoring their own creative dreams.  They enjoy the company of other artists and may help them achieve their creative dreams but do not acknowledge their own creativity.

Does this sound familiar to any of you?  See if you can identify with any of the following:

I was sitting in my daughter’s room, nursing her in the quiet of the late afternoon.  My eyes came to rest on a cluster of small paintings hanging on her wall that my sister-in-law had made for her.  Suddenly I knew, I just knew, that she had to start selling her artwork.  And so it began.  I harassed the poor girl in every way I could, for weeks on end, to start taking her art seriously, including by assigning her homework to help her “get started.”  She didn’t do the homework as I assigned it but she did start putting her artistic self in the spotlight more and it was a real pleasure to see what came out of her own hard work. 

My other sister-in-law is a phenomenal card-maker.  So, after I was done with the visual artist sister-in-law I turned to the card-maker.  I offered suggestions when they weren’t requested -very often.  I tried to be discreet this time, as by now my husband was picking up on what I was doing and noticed I was being consumed with other people’s dreams and passions.  I’m proud to say that she does sell her cards now in stores and at markets – again, through her own hard work and effort.  And again, I watched from the sidelines, my own talents left unexplored.

Then there’s my brother (told you – I’m surrounded!) who can write like nobody’s business.  But he doesn’t.  He can also pick up any instrument and play it by ear.  But he won’t – despite my brilliant ideas on how he can pursue these passions.  I had fun coming up with names for his entertainment company, though.  It doesn’t exist – yet!

Do you see what I’m getting at?  How could I possibly have had any time to figure out my own dreams and goals when I was busy “pursuing” other people’s?  Oh, and being a mom, a wife, a daughter, a speech therapist etc.  I was too distracted and busy to have any time leftover for ME!

Are you falling into this trap yourself?  Take some time to notice your reaction to other people’s creative successes.  Do you spend more time on other people’s achievements (either by supporting, encouraging, observing) than you do on your own?  If you do, then recognizing this is an important step in remembering your Self.    

Then we can focus on the fun stuff – YOU!