Sunday, November 30, 2008

Habits that Help, and Habits that Distract

I have been thinking about habits lately. Over the last four months, I have been building the habit of getting to the gym. After four months of conscious effort, my car now seems to effortlessly drive right past my street, and head for the gym after I drop off my daughter in the morning. Before I am fully thinking about it, I am on my way to the gym.

When I began this struggle to build this habit, I would have to have these conversations with myself...."Don't head home. You need to go straight to the gym. Don't turn down our street.".....It took effort. Effort to get out of my usual habits and build new ones. Now, going to the gym is nearly as effortless as not going once was. And for me, just getting there is the biggest hurdle. Once I am there, I am there to exercise. There are no distractions. I do what I need to do, and I leave feeling better than when I got there. Tired, a little achy, but my head is clear, and maybe some endorphins have kicked into gear.

On the other hand, when I get home, it is easy to get on the computer and "check my e-mail." "Check my e-mail", is really code for; check my e-mail, read a few blogs, check the e-mail, check stats, do a search, check e-mail,.....and down into the hole that can be the internet. An hour or more can pass before I emerge from the internet stupor.

"Who am I, and where have I been? What was I going to do today?"

Maybe the internet doesn't have this effect on you, but I can easily fall down the Internet Rabbit Hole. So, here we have it. In my morning I am finding a habit that is helping me have more energy and feel better overall, and another that is sapping my energy and making me less productive. Distracting me from the work that I really want to do in my day.

It would be easy for me to rationalize this distracting behavior, or even avoiding the healthful behavior. I could skip the exercise, because I am too busy. I just don't have time for it in my schedule. And, I am doing work when I am on the computer. I can tell myself I need to be on the computer.

But these rationalizations don't move me closer to the life I would prefer to be living. I want to be healthier and more fit. That means I need to invest the time into getting to the gym. Time spent on the computer and the internet is something that cannot be avoided, and can help make connections, find out important information, and much more. But it can also leave me less time, energy and focus for the work that is more essential to me as an artist....time in my studio. The rationalization doesn't take into account what my priorities are; what it is that I want to be accomplishing in this life of mine.

The thing about these habits of distraction is that they can be sneaky. They can masquerade as being productive.

  • Do you have to straighten out your studio before you sit down to work?
  • Do you have to make sure the dishes are done and the beds made, etc., before heading for your studio?
  • Do you have to add ten more galleries to your mailing list before you do that mailing?
  • Do you have to write a post for your blog, even though you don't have anything on your mind that you want to say, but you need to write something everyday.

All these things can seem like the right thing to do. This list is by no means comprehensive. But, if you recognize yourself in any way in any of these activities, ask yourself, are those activities helping you be a more productive artist, or are they just making you feel more comfortable, and busy?....and helping you avoid the act of creating?

Let's look at one of the items; cleaning the studio. Perhaps I am trying to rationalize the mess that is my studio....but let's just go down the path a bit further before we question that motivation! I know that some people need to have order before they can begin to sit down to work. I will not question this desire. If a chaotic studio causes too much stress for you to be productive, then you need to honor that desire. But, does the activity of restoring order, give you a sense of accomplishment, without really having done any "work". Does the process of creating order shift your brain to a different place than where your true creativity arises? In the process of trying to create an environment to be creative, are you squelching your creative energy?

But you need that order.

What if,.... you developed the habit of cleaning and re-ordering your studio each day, after you are done creating. Going to that restful place of putting everything in it's place, and cleaning surfaces after the real work is done. Then in the morning, when you go into your studio, you are ready to work. You are not distracted or stressed by the mess.

For me, I find that having a bit of chaos makes it easier for me to go into the studio and get to work. It is less intimidating and scary than the blank canvas of a spotless studio. I can jump right in something that might already be in progress. I like some degree of order so I have room to work, and know where to find things, but the studio where work is always partly done feels more productive to me.

My distraction is that computer. I am not being truly productive by getting on the computer before I get into the studio. I need to shift that energy and time drain to later in the day. After I have exercised, and spent a good chunk of time in the studio.

Finding these sorts of distractions can be difficult. We have to be uncomfortably honest with ourselves, and our priorities. If your art is important to you, you have to make it a priority. If the dishes get done at the end of the day, rather than after each meal, they still get done. And if you are in your studio working, you won't see them! You can go ahead and do that mailing to the list you have, and send out more later as you add to the list.

I find I need to reassess my routine every few months. How am I spending my time? Is it moving me toward what is most important to me, or is it pulling me away? Today, I am glad to say, I stopped myself from heading for the computer after getting home and making my cup of coffee. Instead, I went into the studio, and go some work done, and enjoyed it more than I would have enjoyed that same amount of time on the computer.

Do you have any habits that need re-evaluating? What are your priorities, and are your actions supporting them?

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Prison of Your Voice

I know, I know. I have told you how important it is to develop your own, distinctive voice. It is your trademark, and your brand. But,.....I can't help but wonder if all this emphasis on voice can be a prison or a poison to our creative muse.

Let's say you do what everyone says. You come up with something that is "yours"! No one else has anything quite like it out there. And, joy oh joy!!....people like it! They are buying it! Talk about gratification. There is truly joy in the creative process itself. It can be the best drug on earth for anything that ails you. But, when others see your work and "oooh" and "ahhhh!" over it, that is a very heady moment.

And, even artists are human. What happens when we get this wonderful rush of excitement over how much people liked what we did? We want to hold onto it, to preserve it, nurture it, baby absolutely anything to keep it going. Am I right?

The problem is, this very act is what might kill us as artists. As soon as we try to stay right in that moment of being surrounded by "oohhh's" and "aaahhh's"....better yet, accompanied by hands outstretched with credit cards or soon as we try to capture that moment, we may have hammered a nail in the coffin for our creativity.

As soon as we say to ourselves, "this is what is working, so I will do more of this," we have begun to build the prison walls. It will not be immediately apparent. Because it will take time for the light to dim, and the crowds to disappear. But, they will. Human nature, it seems, craves a certain degree of novelty. And if we do not continue to create, we risk losing our audience, and that excitement about our work.

Yes, we want, and need, to develop a line, and explore it fully. But, we don't want to kill the creative urge in the process. We must trust that if we had one good idea, there are more where that came from. Doing work to satisfy the market is not what this is about. It is more about letting the reaction of the market guide,....or misguide,...your muse.

What is the creative urge? For me it is the voice that says, "I wonder", or "Hunhh." It is that place where a question pops into my mind. Or a shape or form, or a new surface. This is the place we must nurture and protect. This is the place that needs care and feeding. If instead, we say, "Oh no, I can't do that. This is what my work looks like, what people expect from me....not that." We firmly turn our back, close that door, and put that nose on that grindstone, and grind away. And pretty soon, we will find that the ideas to explore have disappeared.

Another risk of closing off to new ideas that might pop up, is that we might become very, very protective of "our" work. When we get to that place of intense ownership, and protection of our work or our expression, we can start to see threats where there are none. People who are copying us. People who are stealing from us. Fear and paranoia are not conducive to creativity. They send us looking over our shoulder and around the corner, when where we really need to be looking is inside. Inside our heads and our hearts. Letting the voice that can't be too still for too long have it's say.

Fear of being copied can be a huge distraction. It drains our energy, and distracts our attention. It keeps us from moving forward. We always have one eye open for that dirty, rotten scoundrel who is ready to rip us off.

What if instead, we say, "Copying happens." Because it does. It is the place where many people begin. It is borne from admiration and enthusiasm, as much as any other place. When an individual copies you, it is unlikely to do much harm. They cannot copy your name, or your maker's mark....the very energy you infuse into each piece in the process of creation. They will most likely get bored and move along, or find their own muse and move along. And that is the essential ingredient for all of us, movement.

Movement is rushing, bubbling, flowing. It may have fits and starts at times, but the general idea is motion. Momentum. Seldom in a straight line. Our creative voice must move. It must stretch it's legs. Peek around the corner, veer off down that path. It is endlessly curious. Sitting still is not what this is about. Building an artistic legacy on one thought, one idea, one expression will not happen. Letting yourself grow as an artist means going with the flow more than discipline. I will explore that in a bit more depth in my next post. But for now, let me know what you think. How does your creativity bubble up? Does it move in fits and starts? Or does all this seem like a foreign language. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving to all my American readers. And, any and all, please feel free to share a thought of thanks for the day, the week, or the year.

I personally, am thankful for the gift of watching my daughters grow up and begin to emerge as two incredibly unique and wonderful people.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Left Turns

Last night I had to drive down to the pediatrician's office to pick up a prescription. Unfortunately, I had to make the drive during rush hour, and now, after darkness. It is about a twenty to twenty-five minute drive, and most of the way is a fairly easy trip. But, there are two left-hand turns, one in each leg of the trip, that are killers.

I hate left-hand turns. The first time I was in a car accident, it was making a left-hand turn. Add rush hour traffic, and trying to cross a busy road, in darkness, and it is even worse. I watched one near accident on the way down to the office, but made that same turn with no trouble.

The trip back was what got me thinking about left hand turns. It was the toughest turn of the trip. Crossing a busy street, with consistently heavy traffic in both directions, and of course, no light. As I was getting near the intersection, I debated with myself. Should I go right instead, and go home a different route? It was only at the last minute that I finally decided to make the left, and go home the usual route.

I sat there watching the flow. Looking right and then left. Trying to find an opening in both directions at the same time. There was a big gap on the right, but cars approaching on the left. At the last moment, the car leading the group on the left turned right, on the the street I was on, and the car behind me hit his horn. "Why hadn't I gone??", the horn screamed at me!

Now I felt under the gun. I missed one opportunity, because of a lack of a signal. When would the next one come, and would I see it in time to act? And, if I didn't, what would the guy behind me do? Clearly, he/she was in a hurry.

With about a minute or two of patience, my window came. It was a tight one that required no hesitation, but it had a bit of breathing space. I made the turn and exhaled as I continued home.

No drama. But it made me think about the process of making decisions and following through with actions in our lives. Are we patiently waiting for that perfect and most comfortable opportunity to present itself, or are we anxious to get across the traffic and moving along to our destination. So anxious in fact that we are willing to take unreasonable risks. It is a spectrum, of course, and on different days we might find ourselves in different places along that spectrum.

The economy slows. Do we decide to park the metaphorical car and not come out again until we are absolutely certain of success in our "turns"/ventures? Or do we behave recklessly. Frantically trying anything and everything, hoping for success? I hope we do neither. I hope we are able to assess what is working and what will need adjustment in order to succeed as we move forward. We do need to move. But we do need to observe the "traffic". This is not the time to run on autopilot. What has always worked, may no longer be a sure thing. What never worked for you in the past, might we worth revisiting, and evaluating. But business and commerce is continuing. Just not necessarily under the same rules as before.

Above all, we do need patience. We do need to make choices based on what is right for us....for the type of driver we are. Just because the guy in the car behind us is beeping his horn....and potentially gesturing wildly (the blessing of the dark is that this could not be seen!), we are the drivers of our business or our vehicle. We have to determine what our goal will be for navigating these rocky roads. We need to adapt, but we can't let someone else's agenda drive us off course.

By the way, did you know that UPS has planned routes so that their drivers make as few left hand turns as possible. Not only is it a safety issue, but apparently it also consumes a lot of fuel to be idling, waiting for that window to turn. So, if you are like me, and will plan routes for your errands so that you have as few left hand turns as possible, then you now can know you are being green in your efforts! And saving money as well. Something we all can celebrate!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sabbatical of Sorts, and Random Observations

I guess you could say I have been on a sabbatical. A break from blogging.

Blogging can be a great way to communicate your thoughts with a larger audience, but...they can also get to be like a nagging child. Pulling at you and wanting your attention. NOW!! Didn't I just write a post? Do I have to write another one again already?

The choice was not necessarily a conscious one, but a necessary one. I needed a break. And I am not sure I am truly back. At least not on a consistent schedule.

The new schedule this year with a new school for my youngest daughter has drastically cut into my time. And the oldest has started piano lessons. I am in the car about 10 hours more per week than last year. Driving a carpool is not time that can be spent doing much more than driving. The school is terrific, so the sacrifice in time is worth it. But, it does take a toll. I now see more clearly just how spoiled I was the last few years with the school bus picking up and dropping off my daughter right in front of the house.

I am getting to the gym at least four days a week. Good for my health. Not so good for my blogging time. I have begun a new strategy to reinforce my motivation to workout, and it seems to be working. I had heard about this technique of using a contract to commit to a goal on the radio, but I had not given it much thought until this fall as I struggled to get to the gym more than twice a week. So far I have seen a definite shift in my commitment, and given the general environment out there right now, I can use the stress reducing benefits of exercise.

The economy has been taking it's toll. I have had various customers behaving badly. Canceling orders. Avoiding phone calls. Sending post-dated checks. Paying late. Or waiting 30 days, and then paying with a credit card....which means I waited thirty days, and I pay fees on the credit card purchase. None of these problems were happening a year ago.

A year ago the beginnings of this downturn were evident. But now, it is in full force. I am concerned about the outlook for the next few months. November and December is when many retail stores make their profit for the year. If people hold back on purchases dramatically, we will likely see many businesses shutting their doors after the first of the year.

I have written a few lenses on Squidoo. It has been a way for me to encapsulate some of the things I have covered here. One lens is an overview about the business of craft. Another is about craft photography. Squidoo seems better suited to these sorts of "brain dumps"....taking a topic that I want to write about and being able to cover the terrain with as many modules, or pictures as I want or need to explain my point. It doesn't have the continuity of a blog, but sometimes a singular topic is all you want to cover. Some people have used it as a way to help promote their products they are selling on Etsy or eBay.

But, like all sorts of things on the internet, it can be a real time drain. There is a reason that the Facebook Anthem video has gotten as many views as it has....many of us are feeling overwhelmed by the endless number of ways we have to stay in touch with an ever expanding circle of people. We are getting to know more people, but perhaps we know less people as well as we used to before the internet became a life line for many people. There was life before Blogger, and Facebook, and Twitter, and LinkedIn, and e-mail even. Functionality has expanded to the point where we can barely function, let alone breath, in the real world.

For all the ranting, I have had some good news. Some of you may have seen this piece in Art Jewelry magazine recent issue (November 2008). It appeared in their gallery section.

And, I had one of my pieces selected as a finalist in the Niche Awards competition for 2009 in the Polymer Clay category. So far I have learned that Sandra McCaw, Jeff Dever and Lindly Haunani are also finalists. Heady company!!

On top of all that good news, I found out two pieces were accepted into the Progress & Possibilities competition, sponsored by the National Polymer Clay Guild, as finalists. A necklace, and a chess set. Talk about feeling pretty lucky! It really is wonderful to have my work recognized in these ways.

Don't know when I will be back. I hope you will understand if it is a while. And, I hope you find some time to get off the computer, and into the studio, or better yet, out for lunch with a friend. Cell phones turned off. Connecting the old fashioned way.