The elephant and the tether. That’s what reclaiming my “self” feels like after years of my self being claimed by work, duties and obligations.
The circus elephant, accustomed to a limited range of motion while their foot is tethered to the post for so long that when the tether is removed, the elephant still never ventures outside the range of the tether. Over time that range has been ingrained into their behaviour. They are trained to stay within a certain circumference.
Don’t we kind of do the same thing? We, the elephant; our daily grind to make a living, the circus.
And we stay tethered even if its no longer attached to us too. Is it because the tether can represent something familiar and predictable? That it circumscribes a safe area where we are comfortable, because we know what lies there in that length of rope between the post and our foot?
Never really noticed this until I no longer had to go to a job, but I am, slowly, learning how to reset the parameters, regain the lost horizon. I feel weightless, but in a disconcerting way. But I know it’s only temporary, that unsettled feeling. I can only think this must be what it’s like when, once bound, now boundless. Oooh, that sounds lovely. And terrifying.
Well, that was a bit of hiatus. We got through the hubbub that is the Christmas season, a happy time for me. I love the winter season, the get togethers, the food, the very atmosphere the season can bring with it. Also, I love the winter season for the quiet time, some delicious solitude time, the snug of a warm home on cold stormy days. Christmas time, being a secular celebration for me, doesn’t discount the beautiful spirit we share together in our human condition. Regardless of religion, I feel it brings us closer, and causes us to remember and connect with the people we love – or those strangers we want to reach out and help.
This year while out doing my gift shopping I noticed that everyone had a countenance of happiness about them. I saw no grumpy faces in other words. Everyone was courteous and polite, smiled at each other. I’m sure there are many out there that do dread the shopping forays.- Not me. The bustle in the shops makes me particularly happy. It’s a super conductive positive charge knowing everyone is shopping because they are looking for a gift to give to another. How can we grumpy when we are engaged in that kind of activity?
This year Bob and I bought only a few gifts for the three grand babies. Between us and our two grown kids and their spouses we had decided on no gifts, but then we all seemed to stumble upon hearing about this particular Swedish gift exchange of Jolabokaflod, or Yule Book Flood, and decided to adopt it for our own gift giving practice. It’s a full on WIN in our family. Tradition installed!
As a happy and luscious addition to ones’ new book, you are also required to have some good chocolate and some wine as you snuggle down on Christmas Eve to read. I can’t think of anything more delightful! Just so happens I made some chocolate truffles to send along with the books. The wine- well they had to look after that, but next year I may wrap that up with the truffles too. Ah, see how it can escalate? Hmmm, do they need a new duvet to cuddle down into with their new book, truffles and wine?
My daughter gave me a non-fiction written by Kate Harris; Lands of Lost Boarders, Out of Bounds on the Silk Road. What a spirit this woman has! Loving it, beautiful writer, and I’m nearly finished it. My son gave me The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It’s a book that he had just read and loved, a book I had on my list to buy since October.
The War of Art runs along slightly the similar lines as The Artists Way, but isn’t a workbook per se. It’s not a big book, so got through it in a day, but found his insights very supportive and motivating for pushing through to, as its subtitle says, Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.
Very helpful stuff in there. And since this blog concerns itself with the creative issues of unblocking and recovering our inner artist I want to share and touch on one of the sections in The War of Art that spoke loud and clear. On page 69 under the chapter “We’re All Pro’s Already” he lists Ten behaviours we all already do as employees when working that day job for other people or companies. The implication he makes is we can transfer these behaviours to our creative work. This, for me, was like an Oprah moment.
Of course! Why wouldn’t I apply the same discipline to my own creative aspirations as I did when an employee and held a day job? And I was a very good employee by the way. Here are the ten points he makes:
We show up everyday.
We show up no matter what
We stay on the job all day
We are committed over the long haul
The stakes for us are high and real
We accept renumeration for our labour
We do not over identify with our job
We master the technique of our jobs
We have a sense of humour about our jobs
We receive praise and blame in the real world
These ten points make sense; treat our creative aspirations with the same “professional” attitude we give our day job. Why would we offer ourselves any less attention? It became evident to me my own inner reason for never considering this has to do with me not believing my creative work is worthy of such a commitment. Hey, it’s not real work anyway, so I can take it or leave it whenever- not important.
In fact, I am cancelling an important date; turning my back on a loved one- ME!
Number 6 is a good one. Receiving monetary reward. Why do we have such a hard time putting a monetary figure to our creative work? Instead we look down at our beaten shoes, give a scuff, and mumble awe shucks when someone likes what we do and wants to buy. We can go to our day job and not even be 20% engaged in that job, but we still happily collect our pay.
I know, and I’m just thinking on the fly here; Art resides on a different plane. Because we have a near spiritual connection to our creative process. To “sully” it with money seems at odds. I don’t have an answer for that, because I’m guilty as charged in that instance. I find it difficult to attach a monetary figure to something I’ve made. I haven’t made much of anything to sell as it stands, but the few things I have had to put a price on was awkward for me.
I do recommend this book for a good kick in the pants.
In the meantime, The Artists Way has been a boon to my inner work, I’m on Week Eleven now and have noticed many definite positive inner shifts. I haven’t gotten down to painting yet, most of my creative work for the last while has been working to complete a writing project, so not privy to sharing that right now. I am still gearing up to push myself into the studio though! It’ll happen.
Delving into my personal hold backs, blocks and self-doubt around creative issues is deep solitary work, with not much to show at first. I’m a sponge right now, soaking all this information up, and I’m loving this whole process of exploring my creative blocks of why’s and why nots. It’s an enlightening, revealing journey!
But also, in keeping with my sponge metaphor, I’m going to have to squeeze out something eventually.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading. Hope your Christmas was glorious, and wishing you a creatively fulfilled New Year ~
The winter Solstice holds special significance to me personally. I gave birth to my only child, a daughter, on this day in 1980. She is the brightest light in the longest night, and I am ever grateful she chose me to be mom. To see her become the incredible woman she has grown into swells my heart to bursting.
The creation of life- all life- is the highest form of art for which we have no hand in.
I wish for anyone who is reading this warmth, light, laughter, with those you love.
Seems while digging up my buried artist self and needing pokes, and nudges to keep on digging till I see glitter my neighbour, a successful working musician for many years, happened to post this on his fb page today. It was a synchronistic moment when I read it. True, there are no secrets. It’s just obvious behaviour if an achievement wants to be attained!
But I felt I needed to preserve it here for constant reference.
10 Secrets to musical success: 1) never stop believing; 2) practice every day; 3)respect your gift; 4) practice every day; 5)love your listener; 6)practice every day; 7) stay straight til it’s over; 8)practice every day; 9) eat healthy on the road; 10) there are no secrets.
I love how Linda Ronstadt responds to the question of why people sing.
“For the same reasons birds do,” she says. “For a mate, to claim their territory or simply to give voice to being alive in the midst of a beautiful day. They sing so that coming generations won’t forget what the current generation endured, or dreamed, or delighted in.”
Part of what I noticed I let lapse over the years of not drawing on a regular basis is my weakened observation skills. I used to spend a lot of time looking at things. I would notice tiny details like the curve of someones lip, or the shape of a hand, the light as it fell across a room. I used to be able to remember scenes, notice certain details and later make a drawing based from that scene. Not implying I drew from a photographic memory of something I saw, but using elements and pertinent details that caught my attention and then make something out of it. Because I was paying attention, I was noticing things, images were saying something to me. Over time, I seemed to have not been so observant. Well, maybe my focus had simply moved.
I pursued a culinary career which requires hard work, working fast, and long hours, product driven, and rush-rush -rush; I recognize that I’ve been rushing around and overly occupied for so many years in contrast to how I once was when I was an art student. Of course there was only me to think about then. Job and family, there is no sitting and looking long at anything except the back of your eyelids after a long day.
The human figure has always been my favourite subject, challenging with its shape and line. As an exercise I did some quick pen sketches of some of the News guys the other night. Because their images flicked back and forth and their positions changed quickly I had to be quick. Good practice to train my eye hand coordination, and observation skills.
So, it’s been an awfully long time since I’ve bought artist paints. Too long to contemplate. I went to my universities Book Store to gather materials, they carry limited art supplies and I get 30% discount. Even still I was taken aback at the price of paints. Funny, I never gave it much thought when I was a devil-may-care art student at this very same university forty-two years ago. Forty–two years ago?! WTF.
Okay, I’m breathing again.
I’m starting small with a few tubes, picking up some new brushes too. But back to purchasing artist’s materials. The price. I realized, as I returned my visa card to my wallet after ringing it through, that I have difficulty reasoning the purchase. Even with a 30% discount. In the past I have done large graphite drawings for the real reason that I was seriously deficient in funds while a single mom. Graphite and paper is not cost prohibitive. A small tube of Cadmium Red can certainly be. Notice here I’ve bought Red, Yellow and Blue. The primary colours that will blend into a range of colours. My effort at cost effectiveness. Why?
Because my inner monkey- you know, the over critical monkey nattering in your brain that causes you to second guess your motives and efforts? Well, this monkey leans into my thoughts and whispers, ‘You’re spending money on something you haven’t practiced in eons’, those “paintings” better be really good to justify the spending’, and, ‘Are you sure about this? These will just sit in the basement never opened, you’re just kidding yourself and wasting money.’
This is part of creative recovery. I have to be patient with myself. I’ve been away too long, it takes time to reacquaint with that atrophied part of myself. I wish it was more like a long lost friend where we just pick up where we left off like no time had passed between us. But it isn’t.
I have an innate compulsion to be timid when what I need is to practice opening up and suspend inhibitions and get painting, paint anything, on paper, canvas or board. To dare to suck at it for a while without self-chastisement, without feeling the need to justify my doing this.
And what I need to be doing is practice pulling zero punches on the monkey. Boom, Boom. Hoping it stays down for the count.