The Most Difficult Thing in the World–in the Shower

Idea Lizard with Vacuum Hose

Recently, I got inspired when Becca talked about what really happens in the shower.

Before you all click through en masse to find out the details, I’ll tell you the gist of what Becca was getting at: the power of verbalizing ideas and the precious instances in which we get those ideas.

Lizards

For Becca, those instances happen to take place in the shower. As I left a comment on her post, I pondered my own sources for artistic ideas.

Many of you, my most darlingest readers, heard me talk last Thursday about one of those sources: my dreams. (That was my first ever video blog post, and many of you lovelies let me know how much you enjoyed it! Thanks again — and yes, I do intend to repeat the trick. What I won’t do for you people… 😉 )

So, Becca revealed that what really goes on in the shower is thinking. In my reply to her post, I wrote the following:

My thinking time happens whenever I just let my mind wander. Like a kid, it comes back to me with its hands and pockets stuffed full of all sorts of oddities. This usually happens when I’m doing housework. The more mindless and repetitive the activity, the more likely I am to turn around and find my artist-child brain holding up a lizard or something for me to coo over.

Valkyries

Were this Twitter, and were I tweeting, I would now employ the most handy hashtag #outingmyself. There you have it, folks. I might be 34 years old, but inside, my mind is really just a big kid.

My mind loafs around, skipping merrily down darkened alleys and picking up things that probably shouldn’t be touched. I’ll be doing housework — vacuuming the floors, let’s say — and suddenly, I have this idea that a certain demon (Dante) in a certain story I’m working on (Colors of Deception) should have an obsession with the music of a certain rock band (INXS).

#thatreallyhappened

I’m shoving the vacuum across the carpet with all the elegance of a Valkyrie in platform shoes, and my artist-child brain dances up and shoves my antagonist’s main quirk in my face. “Look!” says the artist-child. “Look at this! Have you ever seen anything like this before? What is it?” And the most important question:

“What can we do with it?”

Greed and Goethe

What, indeed? In the case of this particular idea, what I did was drop the vacuum, grab some paper, and scribble down the idea. I’d been thinking, but I hadn’t been thinking consciously. I knew that such ideas originate in the vast depths of the subconscious, and as easily as they emerge from the murk, they can just as easily sink back into it. I needed to preserve my idea as quickly as possible, so that I could come back to it later on.

The artist-child loves to share her discoveries — but she can be a greedy little hoarder, too. She doesn’t trust me to take proper care of her lizard; she wants to stick him back into her pocket for safekeeping. She’ll take the lizard back from me if she can — meaning, if I don’t record my idea, I will forget it.

When I write down an idea in my scribblebook, it’s like sticking the lizard in a jar until I can put him into an environment where he can thrive.

Putting the idea into a story, that’s like letting the lizard loose in a huge terrarium made just for him, where he can run and play and laze around and just be what he was meant to be.

“Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.”

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Goethe knew it’s not easy, building a terrarium to house all those scampering little idea lizards.

My artist-child mind brings ’em to me while I’m stuck doing the most mundane activities. But I guess it’s kind of a fair trade, considering how much I love playing with that terrarium.

And once the idea lizards are free to be themselves within their new home (i.e. within my stories), my inner artist-child concedes that keeping them cooped up in her pockets wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun, after all.

___________________________

And you? Where and when do you do your best thinking?

Does your mind hand you ideas you’d rather not touch too often?

What do you do with those?

What’s your lizard?

A Quiz on Virtue — See My Results?

(With many emoticons, for some reason.)

A Goody-Two-Shoes in Recovery

So. Last week, my darlings, we talked faux Virtue, self-sabotage, and other fun stuff like that. A very great many of you were very greatly quiet in the comments. 😉

Actually, I was hoping I’d get some negative responses, simply so I could now digress upon the *ahem* virtue of receiving critiques along with positive feedback.

But I have some Virtue Trap Quiz results to share with you, so I shan’t make you wait for those any longer. 😉

Confession Time

In The Artist’s Way, one of Julia Cameron’s exercises on the Virtue Trap is a complete-the-sentence quiz. Here is how I completed the sentences back in the summer of 2008:

Courtney’s Virtue Trap

1. The biggest lack in my life is … intimacy.
2. The greatest joy in my life is … writing and relationships.
3. My largest time commitment is … writing and The Artist’s Way, currently! 😉
4. As I play more, I work … harder and better.
5. I feel guilty that I am … taking time for me when others aren’t taking time for them.
6. I worry that … my creativity will never generate financial income.
7. If my dreams come true, my family will … be supportive but perplexed.
8. I sabotage myself so people will … think I’m as stressed as they are and accept me more readily.
9. If I let myself feel it, I’m angry that I … sold out to stronger personalities.
10. One reason I get sad sometimes is … I can’t be “like everybody else.”

Looking back nearly three years later, I see that 1 and 10 are directly related. But the most telling numbers to me are 4, 5, 8, and 9 — and I have learned from them.

This Is The Truth

TRUTH on #4
I don’t just want time to myself for artistic play (which looks like “doing nothing”) — I need time for artistic play, which looks like doing nothing! It’s when I’m “doing nothing” that my soul rests and my creative brain taps into the Source of its strength. My creative play infuses me with energy and motivates me to work beyond what I thought were my limits.

TRUTH on #5
I am not responsible for anyone’s choices but my own. If others don’t take time for themselves, that is not my fault. My guilt resulted from an overblown sense of self-important responsibility. (Let’s talk about that in the comments!) I refuse to feel guilty when I take care of my needs.

TRUTH on #8
I sabotaged myself by not getting enough sleep. When others complained about being tired, I could complain along with them, thereby creating a false sense of camaraderie and solidarity.

I sabotaged myself by not eating healthy or exercising. When others complained about being sick and out-of-shape, I could complain along with them, thereby creating a false sense of camaraderie and solidarity.

Yay, we’re all ridiculously exhausted, out-of-shape, and unaccomplished together!

What the…?!?

TRUTH on #9
I was angry when I wrote that list. I am still angry about this part of it. I haven’t yet forgiven myself for selling out. I suspect that’s going to take a long time. So thanks for listening to this part of it, dear readers — telling you about it is part of my therapy!

Foolish — With Enthusiasm!

You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.

–Colette

Sharing this list on the Internet — making myself this vulnerable — is incredibly foolish. I’m opening myself up to attack from all sides, and it’s scary. But I’m doing it with enthusiasm! Because this is what’s behind the Virtuous shell. This is what’s behind the Acquiescent Good Girl persona.

This is the source of the fear. And I refuse to be subject to it anymore.

Last week, I told you the story of my foolish parents, who pursued a creative dream to the other side of the world. They did it with enthusiasm!

The world told me that its brand of Virtue was wise. But true wisdom — discarding false Virtue in favor of Truth — appears foolish to the world. I’ve read about that concept in the Bible my whole life. Finally, I’m starting to understand what that means.

Finally, I’m starting to live by it. And with enthusiasm!

_____________________

I know you’re out there. I can hear you breathing. 😉

How do you sabotage your creative self?

How have you sold out? What does your Virtue Trap look like?

Do these thoughts make you angry? Why?

Confessing My Creative Sins, Pt. 1

As a large, flippered, marine mammal once said, the time has come to talk of other things.

But these aren’t easy things like shoes and sealing wax, dear readers. These are hard things, and they’re things it hurts me to talk about. I need to talk about them…but the telling comes with a painful price.

2nd grade short stories

I’m going to tell you about how, once upon a time, I forgot that I was created to create. I’m going to tell you about how I lived in constant fear and about how I did not stand up for my artist-child self. I’m going to tell you about how I didn’t protect her.

Permission

This will be a story in multiple parts. It’ll require dredging up stuff about my past that I would rather not think about.

So, let me put it off just a little longer by sharing with you something I recently read:

“In life…we only have one choice at any given time. The choice to go left or right…forward or backward. The choice to live or to die. The choice to grow or stay the same… .

Just the same as our choice, we have the ability to grant permission or deny it. Permission to love. Permission to praise. Permission to dance. Permission to edify and to justify. Whether in conversations, relationships or alone, we give permission to those around us every single day.

What I find to be most intriguing in my travels as coach and motivating speaker, is how often people give up their choice by granting permission to someone else to make it for them.”
Tammy Redmon of www.tammyredmon.com*

Darling readers, I’ve spent much of my life fiercely defending my belief that we humans are blessed with free will, with choice. And, while I was so vigorously defending my free will, I was also refusing to exercise it. I paid bounteous lip service to the idea of choice, but I allowed other people to make my choices for me.

Created To Create

If you’ve read my About page, then you know the story of how I first realized that my teenhood dreams of authordom actually went farther back than I thought. If you haven’t read my About page, then you should go do that now.

No, really. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

All right! So, now you know about the wordy second grader, the spiders, and the haunted castle. We can move on from there.

My second-grade self knew and took for granted that I was created to create. With all the innocent, stronger-than-steel faith of a child, she trusted wholly in her connection to the thirst-slaking wellspring of creativity. She drank deeply and constantly from the Source. At age 8, age 10, age 12, I had no doubts about what and who I was.

I was creative. I was a word-artist.

When did I start to forget? Ah, it’s impossible to pinpoint. The forgetting didn’t happen from one day to the next. No, it was a gradual clouding-over of vision over the course of more than a decade. I couldn’t have stopped it. I was too young and naive to imagine it could happen to me, much less recognize that insidious progression.

Creative Memory Loss

My late teen years probably saw the most rapid and intense onset of creative memory loss. I was thinking ahead to universities, to majors, to job-after-college. Make money with writing? Not likely, so let’s get a degree in psychology and write on the side.

“On the side” meant “not at all” until my last year of college, when I finished my novel-in-progress for my senior project in English. By now, I’d dropped Psych as a major and adopted Writing instead. One would think this would encourage a prolific pen. Instead, I finished the project, graduated, and let my writing slow to a crawl for a couple of years.

“Real life” left me neither time nor energy for writing. It didn’t seem like a grown-up activity. Forgetting the creativity felt more mature. Not to mention easier.

Who was telling me that being a grown-up canceled out being a writer? The answer: nobody. Nobody came to me and said, “Courtney, you’re an adult now. It’s time to put these childish dreams of writerdom behind you. It’s time to Make Something Of Yourself. Grow up.”

I wish someone had said that to my face! Blatant attempts at control are easy to combat when they’re right under my nose! I could have stood firm under a barrage of verbal criticism, but I didn’t know how to fight the subtle undermining of my creative foundation.

Giving Away Permission

My soul submitted to the shackles one tiny little step at a time. They were laid upon me by society and by unspoken, between-the-lines judgments from various people in my life.

I learned to see my writing as just a hobby. Oh, if anyone had asked, I would’ve assured them that I still intended to publish someday. But I didn’t behave as though I believe that. I behaved as though, in a Top Ten list of priorities, writing hovered somewhere around 9.5.

After I graduated from college, three years passed before I started writing another novel. In the meantime, I wrote poetry. I painted. I moved to the other side of the world.

I did everything I thought I was supposed to be doing.

Read Tammy’s quote again. See those lines about permission? I gave society and other people permission to decide what I should do with my creativity. Everybody had sanction to determine the fate of my artist-child self.

Everybody except me.

To Be Continued…

So, my dearies, that’s the start of the sordid story I’m trying to tell you. I don’t really want to tell it, but I think I need to tell it. And from what some of you have told me and asked me — both in comments here and in person — I suspect some of you might need to hear it.

So keep coming back. I’ll be talking about this for at least a few more posts.

*Quoted by permission.

Passion Doesn’t Nibble — It Bites

For me, the acquisition of something red — anything red — is a sure-fire pick-me-up.

This is called a Naked Lady. I don't know why.

Which brings me to my very first mention here of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

If you read this blog with any regularity, my dear inklings, you’ll inevitably read hear me mention this book in more detail in the future. For now, know this: If you ever find yourself in a creative funk, or if you’ve ever felt driven to make or do or be something, but you’ve never given yourself permission, then Cameron’s book is for you.

It’s about healing the creative part of you that has sustained damage. It’s all about creative recovery.

Touch Me Not

In her book, Cameron talks about “touchstones.” Touchstones are things that you love, things that you connect with. To me, touchstones are tangible things that remind me of the parts of me that are intangible.

My touchstones are tangibles that resonate with the intangible in me. My touchstones are physical representations of aspects of my soul. And lest I digress into some new-agey, psycho-spiritual ramble, here’s an excerpt from a list I made a few years ago:

Touchstones: Things I Love

swimming
my Polish pottery
Mama’s Mexican soup
honeysuckle
sunsets
swinging on swingsets
being out in a boat
the smell of the air after it rains
locust song
painting
dark chocolate
clothes that make me feel sexy
singing
my wrists and ankles
conversations that last until 4 a.m.
sparkly stuff

 
Some of these touchstones remind me to seek beauty — in the world, in others, in myself. Some of them nudge me back toward the kid in me — the kid who remembers how to play, how to believe in magic, how to laugh.

Some of these touchstones are my therapy for writer’s block! When I can’t write, using my fingers to slap some oil paint on a canvas is a sure-fire way to unlock the words I’ve got stuck somewhere in the back of my head.

And there’s nothing like a good bowl of Mama’s Mexican stew to fill my belly with the kind of comforting warmth that says, “Yes, all is well, and all is well, and all manner of things are well.” *

Gimme More — Please

To my list of touchstones, I’m adding “buying items that are red.” Deep red, to be exact. Deep red, black, and purple are my favorite colors; I have to remind myself to buy clothes in other colors and color schemes. The brilliance and vibrancy of the color red just draw me.

I read somewhere that this year, red lipstick is all the rage. Baby, that sounds like my kind of year.

Give It To Me Raw

Over at Unstressed Syllables, some of you have heard me talk about the heartache, the effort, and the pain that go into writing — or, rather, the tears, the sweat, and the blood.

I suspect the blood might be most important. What novel could live, if not infused with the lifeforce of its author?

I doubt it’s a coincidence this vibrant, sensual, alive color is the one that resonates most with my writer’s heart. We writers sink our teeth into the meat of the psyche. And we like it raw. Give me the passion and the grit and the thrill of the unapologetically real. Let’s paint everything red and throw our arms wide and scream out the truths that everyone else is afraid to whisper.

When I see and touch things that are red, I feel excited. Energized. Ready to go out and do. All the better if I’m buying it new: fresh, a symbol of new beginning.

Red is the color of birth, too. When I’m working on a rough draft of a novel, I’m giving birth to something. And it needs my full attention and my energies, otherwise it’s going to wither and die. Or it might go feral and turn on me. You never can tell with these wild, newborn writings. Red touchstones remind me of what I’m doing.

Red touchstones remind me of why I’m here.

* I am paraphrasing Julian of Norwich, who wrote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”