Tag Archives: art

8 Essential Steps to Unblocking Creativity

13 Jul

All of us have creative slumps. The question is what do we do with artistic impasses and how do we avoid eternal inertia? Is there any benefit to a slow period or is it indicative of self-sabotage and stagnation? How do we self-correct and get back on course?

Creativity has its ebbs and flows. That is its nature. Yet when this vital force becomes inhibited, we lose traction in our work. We then squander our creative energy and impede productivity. To get back on course, it can be helpful to diagnose the issue and take action.

Usually, there is a combination of inner and outer factors- some minor, some major- that all contribute to resistance. We may be battling powerful inner demons or more insidious things like multi-tasking, lack of focus, and spending too much time doing things we don’t want to do. Here are eight essentials for getting back on course to pursuing your dreams:

  1. Invite Curiosity and Compassion

Beating ourselves up about being blocked will never solve the problem. It will just leave us feeling more defeated. Instead we can invite curiosity and compassion into what is going on. This provides invaluable information that we can leverage.

Sometimes we get blocked because we’re going through a hard time emotionally and have personal issues in our lives that need to be addressed. It’s wonderful when we can channel our immediate feelings into our art but sometimes we need to focus on the problem at hand and to heal. This allows some perspective and distance we can later incorporate back into our work. Regardless, our very “stuck-ness” might be rooted in issues that could be mined for gold.

Compassion invites ease into the creative process because we’re no longer trying to strangle things with our efforts and frustrations. Instead, we’re problem solving.

  1. Distinguish the Business Side of Things from the Creative

When creativity is our vocation this creates tension between creative tasks and administrative ones. We can’t abandon our craft, nor neglect the business aspects required to get our work out into the world. We must do both.

Clarity on how to strike this balance creates more space for creative execution. Marking, raising funds, and tending to details are paramount but they need to be treated as separate from raw creative output. Otherwise, we’ll feel frustrated and unfulfilled when we get too sucked into the business side of things. We need time for the muse as well.

And yes, social media is good for self-promotion but it can also deprive us of precious creative time. Consider only using social media at specific periods during the day or hiring an assistant to help manage it.

  1. Seek Mentors

When it comes to mastering a craft, we want to learn from the best. Seek out professionals whose work you admire when it comes to learning your specific art form. There is always something to learn, no matter where we are on the path. When Jane Fonda was hired on “Grace and Frankie”, she immediately started working with an acting coach despite being a veteran in the field.

Mentorship helps us stay accountable to our goals and saves us time. Why reinvent the wheel if someone who has paved the way before can give us some tips? Not only that, art is collaborative and based on relationships. Mentorship helps foster the relational aspects of the industry that are so vital to success.

  1. Let the Field Lie Fallow

In farming there is the tradition of letting fields lie fallow so the soil can replenish itself before planting crops again. For those of us running on empty, burnt out from work and responsibilities that have left us bone tired, we need periods of inactivity. Without pause, it is difficult to get in touch with our creative impulses, particularly when our lives are moving at such a fast pace that we can barely keep up. Creativity demands periods of down time. This allows us to refill the well and fosters dreamtime. Some of the most innovative ideas come when lounging on the couch, washing the dishes, going for a walk, or reading a novel for pleasure.

There is a story about a goose that laid a golden egg a day. Her owner became greedy and forced her to produce more. Eventually, she stopped laying any eggs.

  1. Explore the Tension Between Surrender and Will

Creating is a weird balance of surrender and will. We need to take action. For instance, a screenplay doesn’t write itself. We have to turn on the computer and type. On the other hand the real magic lies in being receptive to ideas that emerge when we aren’t necessarily “trying” so hard to create. When we push too hard for an outcome, we can strangle the moment- on the page and on the stage.

If you’ve ever surfed, you know that catching a wave requires being out there in the water. You have to suit up, show up, and paddle. However, you actually catch the wave by sensing its momentum and allowing it to propel you. The wave takes you just at the moment when you are in the right position. Then you pop up on the board. Creating is like that. It’s a tension between exerting effort and then letting go.

We work through blocks when we practice “being” in the midst of doing.

  1. Go Where the Juice is!

Sometimes we’re blocked because we’ve lost our passion for a project. When this happens, it can be helpful to explore something that excites us instead. This doesn’t mean that we’ll never complete what we start. We need to finish projects even when the going gets tough and tedious. However, sometimes we need a shot of vitamin B. Moving in a different direction might supply this boost.

Tracking where there is artistic desire and pleasure is helpful. We don’t need to know why we’re drawn to certain projects. Sometimes our most creative ideas come out of left field. Be open to surprises! This is the beauty of the Mystery.

  1. Keep the Train Moving

I’m a huge fan of the Nike commercial, “Just do it!” Often what we most need to do is to lace up our sneakers and get our butts out the door. Momentum is essential for moving through creative blocks. No matter how much we might be prone to procrastinating, we must keep the train moving. If this is as struggle for you, have an accountability partner. Schedule tasks and times to do things. Despite the block, keep moving. Even if you have to take a break from one project, work on another one. Or, if you’re super stuck, try creating in a different medium for a while. Just keep doing something. This primes the pump.

It can also be helpful to note that the root word of discipline is “disciple.” Instead of viewing discipline as drudgery and rigidity, think of it as sacred. We when our devoted to our craft we engage with the Divine.

  1. Conceptualize Your Life as a Work of Art

Even though we all might dream about Oscars and fame, creativity is a process, not a product. Furthermore, creativity is inherent in all aspects of our lives: building and maintaining relationships, raising children, making meals, growing a garden, even getting dressed! Keeping this perspective reminds us of how vital creativity is to our wellbeing. It is our life force.

Not only that, creativity allows us to organize the chaos of our lives- and to make something of beauty from it.

Our lives are works of art. We get to call the shots- if we maintain this perspective. As Albert Einstein once said, “Logic will take me from A to B– imagination will take me anywhere.”

On Aesthetics

2 Jan

The first time I was in Venice I was sixteen years old. While traveling, I had a major crush on the high school water polo who couldn’t give me the time of day. In the end, it was the British tour guide who got my heart despite a ten year age difference between us.

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His influence on my life over a number of years dramatically impacted my intellectual education.

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Yet there comes a time when recognizing beauty becomes in-bred. Your own beauty suddenly radiates from within. There is no longer a need for someone else to draw it out – as lovely as that is….

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It’s the beauty that has always been there waiting for its turn on stage.

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The Italians know that beauty is eternal despite how it alters with time and light.

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Italians also love company. They are always together. You rarely see anyone alone. They find beauty in being together and in being.

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They take their time, no one gets things in to go cups, and everyone drinks lots of wine and coffee.

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Italians also flirt. I was in the company of this man for five minutes and you’d think we were long lost lovers.

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Beauty is important. It’s one of the conduits to heaven and reminds us of the Divine present among us. In drama therapy, we say that the aesthetic choice is usually the more healing one.

Wrestling with Waiting

6 Jul

Most of us have done a fair amount of waiting. It’s a part of life. Yet there are times when waiting starts to feel like we’re living in a &^%$# production of “Waiting For Godot.”

There are so many ways in which we wait. “Your time will come,” people will say while one waits for a job, or a meal, a paycheck, or a diagnosis. We wait for good or bad news, for the traffic to lift, for the storm to clear, or for that lucky break. We wait for others to change or for love to finally arrive.

Waiting becomes harder for us in today’s instant gratification culture. We can no longer tolerate standing in line at a store without checking our phones or making calls. When we arrive at the counter, we nod to that checker as if he or she were a mere servant inconveniencing us and then we promptly ignore him or her.

The most excruciating period of waiting I ever had was the seven days in-between receiving a suicide note from my mom and the news that she was dead. July 11th – July 18th, 8 years ago.

How do we wait and is there any benefit in the process? Is there a way out of existential angst or are we relegated to it like a form of purgatory? Can we sex, drugs, and alcohol our way out, or do we chin up like a little tin soldier? Do we collapse and fall apart or scale the mountain to greatness?

In yoga, the space between the breaths is viewed as quite significant. It is the transition point. The point were inhalation gives way to exhalation and then gives rise to inhalation again. That is the practice. Learning how to sit through the transitions of felt sensate experience without repressing or collapsing. It is its own Gethsemane. We typically endure alone while the disciples sleep. We die and are reborn in each impasse if we allow ourselves to breathe through it. It is the road to Spirit and to Grace.

It’s not fun to feel. But it is this arc, this wave that gives rise to desire, to momentum, to action, and to transformation. It is what ultimately brings joy. Without it, there is no art. No creation. No change. And no intersection.

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Embracing Our Phantoms

3 Oct

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I’ve always thought of the “Phantom of the Opera” as a haunting and dark love story. Never did I see it from a Jungian perspective, i.e. that the Phantom represents a vital part of Christine, the heroine. But when viewed as such, the story reflects deeper power. And in a way, the story makes a hell of a lot more sense. It’s not just a gothic tale with plush costumes. Instead it’s a tale of cosmic beauty.

What would it be like if the very part of us that we despised, that lived in the bowls of a church, was also the part of ourselves that served as our angel of music? What if the deformed part of ourselves, hiding beneath a mask, was the part that inspired creativity? The part that drew out beauty, passion, and Divinity? Would it be possible to love this Phantom? Or would we run from him in fear?

The reality is that if we deny this part of ourselves, it will indeed possess us. It will keep us captive. It will haunt our dreams and wake us up at night. It will keep us prisoner from the Light of day and keep us forever victims. It will also bar those waiting to fully love us in a way we never imagined possible.

Perhaps meeting our Phantom side represents the greatest love story ever. Here is the epic tale of befriending him in the dark and delivering him a kiss. Maybe it’s about touching the deformed face under the mask with profound gentleness and compassion. And when we do that, perhaps we are finally liberated. Free to leave the basement of the church and free to stand in majesty. Uniting with the animus, we are finally whole.

Perhaps the world’s greatest lover is right here inside oneself, in the music of the night.

My Happy Place

23 Sep

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From the time I was a child, this was my happy place. It’s still my happy place. Anywhere that I can make art collaborating with others is where I find my life force. It’s where I find God. Art is where we transcend, celebrate, unite, and become.

Acting on the Edge

27 Dec

In acting class there is an exercise sometimes referred to as a “frozen reading.” Two actors are given a scene they haven’t set eyes on before and are instructed NOT to read it. Instead, they are told to look at each other. Only when they are locked onto each other’s eyes, can the person with the first line look down at the script. He or she is to read the line quickly, grab the words, and then deliver them while looking right back at the partner.

It’s super weird doing the exercise because it makes me feel like I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I don’t know what is going to happen and that is precisely the point. It’s about being in the moment and about being relational. If I’m looking at my partner, I’m not thinking about how I’m going to deliver my next line. Instead I start to act on the edge, responding to what is unfolding in real time: my partner smiles, my partner twitches, we burst into a nervous giggle, a certain strange sexual chemistry unfolds, even though the script doesn’t indicate romance…. OR, the script’s words are about love, yet my partner stares coldly at me, and I in turn, deliver my line clipped….

The exercise is about letting go of preconceived notions and allowing the moment to unfold as it is meant to go down. For control freaks like me, this is the perfect metaphor for life. Can I let go and see what happens? Can I be open to new experiences? Can I love? Can I perform without a safety net? Can I invite possibility in?

Great art emerges from risking taking and generosity. It unfolds from NOT playing it safe but from acting on the edge.

Sure we all want a little security and consistency in life but what happens when those desires threaten to make us prematurely old? What happens when we abandon our childhood dreams and our heart’s desires? Children don’t think about how they might get hurt on the playground. Instead, they just dive in and play.

As we enter 2015, I want to act a little more on the edge. How about you?

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Are You Daring To Bloom?

25 Oct

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The other day, while out on a walk, I passed by this flower. It seemed to be saying, “Here I am in all my glory, and I am not ashamed of how magnificent I am!”

There was nothing pretentious or narcissistic about this flower’s attitude because unlike humans, it had none. It was simply fulfilling its genetic encoding. Given the right soil conditions, and enough water and sun, the plant was doing what it was designed to do: It was blooming.

I am fascinated by nature. I love that there are a gillion varieties of plants and flowers and that none of them compete with one another about who is better. The rose doesn’t try to act like the daisy, and the orchid doesn’t wish it was a lily.

I believe that like this flower, we are here to boldly live out our true nature. We are all here to actualize and to express the Glory of our Maker. Each of us is unique and has something special to do, according to our personality, loves, and talents.

Not all flowers bloom on the same time table. Their blossoms unfold when they are ready . The conditions also have to be right, and we, like good gardeners need to be aware of the environment. Is there enough fertilizer in the soil and is there enough light? Is the garden too crowded, and if so, how can we gently make more room, so that roots aren’t tangled? How can we work with the entire garden to ensure its overall beauty?

We bloom when the time is right. The poet Hafiz wrote: “How did the rose ever open its heart and give to this world all its beauty? It felt the encouragement of light against its Being. Otherwise, we all remain too frightened.”

Yes, we most definitely need love and light for our essence to unfold. Yet we must also dare to bloom. It’s not all about the outside environment. We also need to express our personal DNA.

There is no shame in taking space. In fact, we have an obligation to share our beauty with the world.

Personal Inventory: Are You Living The Life You Want?

9 Oct

This morning, despite the fact that I need to be up and ready by 8:00 a.m., I spent an hour in bed reading a light, fluffy novel. I didn’t immediately check FB or my email. I simply stayed in bed, enjoying Nantucket and red roses, as my mind travelled to the setting of my novel.

Last night, I crawled into bed with this same novel and fell asleep by 8:30 p.m. I then proceeded to sleep for ten hours. This was the second night this week that I slept that long.

My boyfriend would attribute my behavior to the fact that I am an introvert. According to him, I’m on the extreme end of the introverted scale. I attribute my behavior to the fact that it is Autumn, and that I am tired. Autumn is the season where we harvest the events of the year and take inventory. It is the time where we prepare for Winter. If we live in a cold climate, which I don’t, we are at the mercy of the elements. If it rains or snows, we may choose to stay in and build a fire.

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What crop are we harvesting and was there a good yield? And what do we need to do to ensure next year’s crop? Sometimes this entails letting a field lie fallow. Regardless, Winter will induce a period of dormancy.

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Fall and Winter are probably my most productive periods of the year intellectually and creatively. Yet they are also the seasons where everything in me screams to slow down. I want to savor the pretty October days and the cool nights. I want to actually enjoy the holidays vs. be consumed by the stress of them. And I want to feel my own life, as another year rolls by. The older I get the more I realize that the years pass quickly, and that if we don’t take ownership for how we want to live, regrets will surface. I will not live that way. I want to fulfill the dreams I had as a child, that I played out in my mind, as I trotted off to school and admired the Pumpkins and turning leaves of Fall. I want to watch that sun setting like orange fire over the Pacific, and to know that I embraced its beauty.

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Longing for Simplicity

31 May

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Last week I spent time in Lancaster, PA, home of the Amish and much beautiful farmland. What drew my attention wasn’t the attire of the Amish or the sight of horse drawn buggies chugging along the shoulder of the road. Instead, I was struck by the beauty of the landscape and the image of families working together in the fields.

I spent my childhood summers in Wisconsin so this terrain is not entirely unfamiliar. While staying with my grandparents, I had the opportunity to visit many a farm and sung songs to myself while playing in cornfields. Witnessing the Amish tend their farms reminded me of this and left me with a haunting longing for a life more attuned by nature and its rhythms. Looking at a group of cows sitting in a field of yellow flowers, I thought, “Wow. What a nice life.”

This morning while reading the Twitter and FB feed, I stopped for a moment and said to myself, “What the hell? What the hell is this all about? This constant need to press myself into the world all in the effort of building a platform? My only intention with these efforts is that perhaps one day my voice will be loud enough for a publisher to notice me and to bet on an unknown horse. But to what avail and at what cost? On my deathbed will I care how many followers I have on Twitter? Or will I instead be glad that I produced quality work even if it never gets recognized and out into the world? I have no answers because as much as I longed for simplicity as a child, I also longed to be recognized and to influence. But I wonder if ambition causes us to miss the mark all together.

This week the gifted Maya Angelou passed away – a woman of remarkable talent and endurance. How did this woman live her life and how did she generate her influence? When I think of famous people of dimension, integrity and talent, I wonder if they longed to be players on the world stage, or if simply living their truths led to this phenomenon. Is it possible that if we embody the vision, visibility follows organically?

And in the end, what is it that we’re living for anyway?

Creating Space

14 Mar

When I was a little girl I spent considerable time helping my grandparents in their garden. Well, they worked while I slapped at mosquitoes and sang songs to myself. I remember my grandmother once explaining that a weed was anything that grew where it shouldn’t. Even a rose could be considered a weed if it was in the wrong place or choking another plant from receiving nourishment. I am a big fan of roses so it never occurred to me to consider the flower a weed. Yet my grandma had a point.

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I think about this conversation from long ago as I consider how over-crowded many of our lives are at this point in time. Talk to anyone and most will say, “I’ve got way too much going on…. I’m so exhausted. If only I had more time….” When this is the adage and refrain, I wonder if some weeding can be done, even if some of the “weeds” are the equivalent of roses. Sometimes too much of anything, even good things can overwhelm. If this is the case, we can become more conscious and judicious of what we plant in the garden and where we place things.

On the other hand, nothing is more exquisite than a wild overrun English garden. I’ve always been enamored by this style of gardening for these creations have a random and chaotic feel yet paradoxically bring a sense of calm. In them one finds a dizzy yet harmonious vitality almost analogous to a rich full life.

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Currently, my life feels like one of these wild overgrown English gardens. There is so much blooming at the moment my head wants to spin from the sea of color. And yet, if I’m honest with myself, nothing is choking out anything. Instead, the various items are delicately enhancing the others. Why then do I feel I need to control it all or take something away? Would it not be better to simply pause and sit in the garden for a moment and take it all in? How do we create space in our lives and what type of space do we yearn for? How do we find that fragile balance between order and chaos? I find it a daily process, one that requires the diligence and commitment of any good gardener and the ability to surrender things to Mother Nature as well.