Scheduling Creativity

Don’t wait to be compelled to do great work.

Richie Norton

I’ve always been a creative person. As children, my sister and I spent hours drawing every day. I honestly probably have my parents’ relative poverty to thank for that. When you come from a family that doesn’t have the money to take you places and buy you new toys all the time, you learn how to entertain yourself with creativity. Not only did we draw constantly, we even made little clay figures, modeling them after Pokémon, or what have you, that we couldn’t afford. It’s funny how the things you once felt cheated by in life become the things you are most grateful for and vice versa.

Anyway, for the majority of my life, my creativity was dependent on “inspiration.” Initially, this wasn’t hard to come by. It is easy to feel inspired and excited by simple things when you are a child. However, once I got into high school, that inspiration started to dwindle. This could also have been a result of my increasing anxiety causing me to start overthinking my process. Whatever the cause, I began creating less and less. It didn’t seem worthwhile to make the effort if the outcome wasn’t going to be something amazing. My ideas weren’t good enough, in my opinion. I wasn’t good enough.

Eventually I stumbled upon the fact that many great artists and writers had struggled with the same issue of motivation. It wasn’t that history’s greatest works always spurred from incredible ideas or the energy of inspiration, rather they came from dedication, hard work, and persistence. Many writers swear by having a writing routine where they write a certain amount every day, regardless of if they feel like it or have anything interesting to say. Despite this, I continued to resist this idea for years. Only recently have I begun to see the value in this method.

The hardest part for me, is accepting that you will certainly create more, but each work may not be as incredible as ones that have been passionately inspired. However, with this regular practice, when inspiration does strike, you will be able to use the skills you have been honing to produce the best version of the work you’ve been inspired to create. In addition to that, inspiration will find you more often if you work at it instead of just waiting passively for it to find you.

Since I began writing and drawing every single day a few years ago, it is stunning how much I’ve improved. (I actually don’t know if my writing has really improved, but my drawing definitely has.) Perhaps more important than the higher quality work I am able to produce, is what I have learned along the way. I’ve learned that the outcome, the product, of creativity isn’t what I’m really after. There is a special joy in producing something from within our own minds and seeing it materialize in the world. Writing and drawing and other artistic endeavors are not a means to an end. They are an end in themselves. They are like dancing.

Dancing is certainly a form of art, but unlike other artistic modalities, these is less focus on a “product” and more focus on the experience in the moment, whether or not their is an audience. Capitalism has obscured and cut down the spirit of creativity within each of us. It has taught us that only certain people are “talented.” Only these talented few have any right to spend their time in artistic pursuits. And even then, only if they are intending to market their work in some way and make a profit. Never simply for personal fulfillment or fun.

Regardless of whether or not you consider yourself “creative” or “talented” I believe that artistic expression is an essential, inherent part of being human. I also believe that it is one of the only ways that we are truly free. Don’t allow anyone to take away that freedom. Don’t allow the world to sever the connection to your imagination. I guarantee you that you friends and family would love to see what you are able to create, irrespective of how “good” it may be. Few things make me happier than seeing the drawings that the children I work with make. Some of my favorite art has been made by my best friend who I’m sure wouldn’t consider herself very talented.

Talent is irrelevant. Art is a glimpse into the mind, the soul, of another. There is an inexplicable intimacy to art. That is what makes it beautiful. So please, express yourself freely in whatever way that brings you joy. Share yourself with the world. Make creativity a regular practice. Even if only for yourself. It’s worth it.

17 Ways to Develop Your Creativity

Advertisements & Mental Health

Even as a young child, watching TV in my living room, I couldn’t stand commercials. Most of my life, I assumed that was just the obvious reaction to people trying to sell you shit you don’t want. I thought everyone saw them as annoying, if not infuriating. My anger towards advertisements has only grow as I’ve gotten older. Only recently have I begun to realize that not everyone views these ads the way I do.

A friend of mine always seems confused or surprised when I start ranting and raving about advertisements. I’m usually the one to get overly animated about topics that anger me, so I figured she was just put off by my fiery passion. But since then, one of my new coworkers has repeatedly shown me ads on his phone that he found funny. That really threw me. Why would anyone purposefully show me that? Why would anyone watch an ad intentionally? This bizarre interaction is what led me to realize that some people actually don’t mind ads at all, some even enjoy them, or at the very least, accept them as a necessary evil of a capitalist society. I guess I should have realized this sooner given that so many people inexplicably love to watch the ads during the Super Bowl.

Today I would like to address those people out there that have been fooled. Advertisements are not cute, or funny, or interesting. The advertisers are not your friends. Advertisements are not “necessary.” I’ll start there. I can still remember asking my mom why the radio was free as a little girl. I’ll never forget what she told me: The radio is free, because the advertisers pay to broadcast their messages. From there, it didn’t take me long to make the obvious connection to television. I simply couldn’t understand why we pay for cable AND have to watch advertisements. Shouldn’t it be one or the other? The answer is yes, and it used to be that way. Now despite the laughably high cable rates, the commercial breaks continue to get longer and longer.

I haven’t paid for cable since I’ve lived on my own and never plan too. Yet, I see this exploitative business model playing out in Hulu and other streaming platforms now. I was newly enraged while reading the message displayed on Hulu because of my ad blocker. “We are unable to show a message from our sponsors.” Excuse me? Fuck you, Hulu. I am your sponsor. When do I get to broadcast a message? Luckily I just get to sit in silence while my ad blocker does it’s job.

Some of you might be wondering why I wouldn’t just watch the ad, given that I have to wait the allotted amount of time anyway. I have a very good answer for that. I refuse to be brainwashed and manipulated. Advertisements aren’t just annoying, they are an assault to the senses. There are countless studies showing the negative mental health effects of advertisements, particularly on children. Children subjected to advertisements are more likely to eat unhealthy foods, be materialistic, and have body image issues. And that isn’t a side-effect, that’s the goal. That’s how marketing works.

The unspoken goal of all advertising is to make you feel like you don’t have enough, aren’t happy enough, aren’t liked enough, that you simply aren’t enough. The promise is that if you purchase their products, then you’ll be happy, popular, and fulfilled. Not only does that messaging deteriorate your mental health and wellbeing, it is also contributing to the climate crisis. When everyone continuously feels unsatisfied and feels they need more and more stuff to be happy, it takes a toll on the Earth’s resources. Sadly even if you are aware of all this, it doesn’t make the negative mental health effects of consuming this content any less damaging. It’s a mild form of brainwashing in my opinion. Especially when it comes to the impressionable minds of children. To make matters worse, with most of the content children are exposed to coming from the internet, there are even less protections in place to combat this, like there are on cable television.

To me, advertising is no different than the government allowing companies to pollute the air and water (which of course they do allow.) The reoccurring theme of capitalism rears its ugly head once again. Companies are encouraged to make money at the expense of the consumer’s health. Those companies aren’t my friends. They are my enemies. And I refuse to listen to their propaganda. So if you’re someone that doesn’t get mad about advertisements, maybe it’s time that you start.

Lucky Strike cigarettes advertisement from 1930 - ABC News (Australian  Broadcasting Corporation)

Rest

Introduction to REST APIs — RESTful Web Services - DZone Integration

When was the last time you really allowed yourself to do nothing? Not planning for the day ahead, not going for a walk, not even doing yoga and meditating. Really and truly nothing. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a day where every second wasn’t accounted for with some form of activity. I used to think that as long as I wasn’t at work, I was resting. Now I realize life isn’t that simple. Even on my days off, I have a rigorous schedule to follow by the minute. I am constantly checking the clock, checking my to-do list. Sometimes my relentless repetition from day to day has the effect of turning even fun, lighthearted activities into chores. Chores I nevertheless continue to perform, forgetting that my original intention was to enjoy myself.

I heard this phenomenon referred to the other day as “internalized capitalism” and I hated it. Is this really why I feel the need to always be productive? I may not be someone who obsesses over their actual job, but I tend to turn my own personal pursuits into a job. I am my own task master. But behind my own neuroticism, is capitalism really running the show? After all, why do I feel the need to be productive all the time? I’ve always thought working only as much as I absolutely have to and saving the rest of the time for myself was a rebellion against capitalist ideals. Now I’m beginning to wonder if that very system managed to seep into my mind somehow anyway. Why am I so afraid to rest? Why does “wasting time” feel so taboo?

Part of the conversation on “internalized capitalism” was really interesting to me. The hosts of the podcast mentioned that perhaps we tie our self worth to our productivity and usefulness to others because at the end of the day, none of us really know why we’re here. I thought that was a fascinating idea. Without inherent direction or purpose, we subconsciously decide that our purpose is production and selfless service. On paper it doesn’t sound like a bad purpose. It’s quite noble to dedicate your life to serving others. The problem only appears when we decide this is the only thing that matters.

The search for meaning is a perplexing one. Why do we humans long for a reason? Do other animals question their purpose? Do plants wonder why they exist? It seems self evident that we would want to find meaning in the chaos that is existence, but what makes us so sure there is a meaning in the first place? Furthermore, why is the idea that our purpose is to simply exist so unsatisfying? What is it inside of us that makes us desire a reason for being alive? Isn’t just being alive enough? Can’t we just be grateful and enjoy it? Then again, perhaps our innate need to understand this mystery implies that there is an explanation out there somewhere. Whether or not we’re meant to find it in this life is another story.

I’ve always liked the idea that we get to choose our own purpose. The meaning of life is for us each to interpret for ourselves. However, why is it so hard to fully commit to our own interpretation? For instance, I would say the purpose I’ve assigned to my life is to love and be loved, to learn, to experience, and to enjoy. When I break down my day to day existence though, does it really reflect that purpose? Not really, but how can that be? I get to choose the purpose, and I get to choose how I live, don’t I? Our actions are so often counterintuitive to our own wishes.

Given that none of us really know why we’re here, why is it so difficult for many of us to simply rest? I think part of me is afraid that if I allow myself to rest, I’ll never find the motivation to get back up again. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest right? Humans aren’t objects though. I shouldn’t fear slowing down every now and then. Objects are moved by external forces, momentum keeps them going, and once they stop, they never know when or if they’ll be propelled into motion again. Living beings are different. My energy, my movement comes from within. It’s important to rest so that I can refill my energy stores. There is an elegant dance at play, an eternal struggle to find balance between these two states.

I want to learn to trust my body, to listen more closely when it whispers what it needs, to stop denying it’s pleas for rest. I’ve been pushing myself for so long now, it seems like my body only ever asks for rest. I’ve tricked myself into believing this is all it has or will ever ask for. That it’s my job to overcome this desire for inertia each and every day. I’ve lost faith in my own resilient spirit. I’ve forgotten that it’s a joy to move, to create, to explore. Allowing myself moments of stillness won’t leave me trapped there. I’m sure that if I were to only give myself time to rest, once I was replenished, I’d be eager to get back to “work.” Maybe intervals of rest would keep me from feeling like my life is work at all.

I may be pleasantly surprised like I was after my stint of working from home. I had thought working from home would be ideal for me. I had always wished for that or even not having to work at all. Yet, after a few months I was actually dying to go back to the office. All that time alone had the opposite effect. I wasn’t happier. I was being consumed by my own self-destructive behaviors. I had worried that it’d be a huge burden to go back eventually, but I was surprised to find myself overjoyed when my time at home finally ended.

Try to give yourself at least a few minutes of true rest today. Sit in the grass and stare at the clouds. Listen to your favorite album start to finish. Have a long bubbly bath. Take a nap without guilt. It’s been so long since I’ve incorporated rest into my life, that I’m honestly struggling to come up with examples. What do you like to do to rest? I would love to hear your ideas. Maybe you’re an introvert and rest looks like spending time alone. Or maybe you’re an extrovert and to replenish yourself you like to spend quality time with loved ones. Whatever it is, you deserve it. Give yourself the gift of rest. Use it as an experiment if you like. How might rest give you the energy you need to more fully enjoy the busy moments?

Invest in rest (and live better. Seriously.)

Money Maker

I’ve been drawing something every single day for around a year now. It has been a great habit to start. It helps me spend some time being playful and creative each day. The only issue I’ve encountered at this point is running out of ideas. Well, that and the ever-increasing stack of drawings I’ve started accumulating. In an attempt to think of some interesting drawing ideas, I came up with the idea to start doing drawings for the children I work with. A few people had suggested that I make a collection of my sketches into an adult coloring book. While this was a great idea, given that I don’t ever like to color my art, I didn’t feel much inspired to do so. After thinking on it for awhile, I decided I would feel more passionately about putting it together if it were a coloring book full of positive affirmations for children and teens.

One day early on in my career when I still felt very awkward about waiting with the children while my coworkers spoke with their parents, I decided to make a drawing for a little girl while she was busy playing. Even though I was too anxious to go join her or carry on a conversation, I didn’t want it to appear that I was cold or disinterested. So I did what I could, in my own socially awkward, anxious way. I drew a picture of a cute Japanese-style dragon with cherry blossoms around it. I added a banner that said: You deserve to be happy. Before she left I crouched down by her side and gave her the picture. I told her that I drew it especially for her while she was playing. I told her what it said and that I wanted her to always remember that and believe that it’s true. Even though it took a lot for me to build up the courage to do that, it was all worth it when I saw how happy it made her. She was so eager to show her mom. I can still hear her precious mousey voice saying, “Look mommy, she made this for me!”

Just thinking about that day makes me tear up. That experience is what inspired me to make more drawings with positive affirmations for kids. The first few I drew made me so happy and excited. I couldn’t wait to show my coworkers and see what they thought about the idea. I already knew they liked my art, but I really underestimated how much they would love this new endeavor. They immediately started talking about copyrights and publishing, selling them to therapists and other child advocacy centers, all the potential money there was to be made. They urged me not to do anything with them until I put legal protections in place. I was excited and flattered and more than a little embarrassed. I never know how to respond to praise or compliments. Soon those feelings began to fade, though. They were replaced by hesitation, regret, anxiety, and fear.

I went from making a new coloring page every day to once a week, to not at all. It feels as if all the passion behind this idea has drained out of me. Now whenever I think about it I become lost in a fog of copyright law, fees, plagiarism, business plans, and marketing. I had only been waiting for my coworkers’ approval before happily handing them over to each kid that came in. Now it seemed like a much longer wait was ahead of me before I could start giving them away. All I had been thinking about was being useful to my advocacy center, to the children I see every day. I was excited about how this gift would impact them, if the words on the page would some day make a lasting impact on their hearts and minds. However, dollar signs were first and foremost for everyone else.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that my friends at work thought so highly of my art that they want me to protect it and make a profit from it. I’m sure they have no idea how this business advice left me feeling deflated and frustrated instead of proud. I never wanted to make any money off of this idea. My only desire was to make children happy, to introduce them to the power of intention, self-talk, and positive thinking. Now I feel pressured to secure my claim to these images before sharing them with the world. I feel pressured to come up with a way to profit from this work. I feel as though it would be stupid of me not to do these things. That others would think me stupid for not doing these things.

It reminds me of a study I read about once. One group of children was told to do a fun activity, then rate their enjoyment afterwards. Another group was told to do the very same fun activity, but with the added bonus that they would be paid afterwards. This group surprisingly rated their enjoyment much lower than the first, non-paid group. You see once money becomes a motivator, it becomes work rather than play. When you shift your focus from intrinsic motivation to extrinsic, a task becomes much less fulfilling. Making art to positively impact the lives of children, means a lot to me. Making art to make money, leaves me feeling empty.

It all comes down to caring too much about what other people think of my actions and decisions in the end. No one is forcing me to guard these drawings and add price tags. I am free to give them away whenever I see fit. The only thing holding me back is the opinions other people may have about that. But I’ve got to trust myself and hold on to the passion that led me to start this project in the first place. This was never about money or even what other adults would think about it. This is about helping children. This is about making small, vulnerable humans feel happy and loved. That is what motivates me. That is what sparks joy in my heart.

You Deserve to Rest

I have been feeling exceptionally tired and unmotivated these past few days. I am starting to think all the business I’ve been experiencing has finally burned me out. Thankfully I have a nice long holiday weekend coming up. I am even planning on taking a few extra days off to make it super juicy and relaxing. The only issue is that even though I am desperately needing it, I have a really hard time actually allowing myself to take breaks. It makes me so anxious and even makes me feel guilty at times.

I was watching an anime series last night and one of the characters was insisting that the others value the time they have for resting and to make sure they allow themselves to recover when they get the chance. I’ve been hearing similar sentiments a lot lately, especially online. In a society so focused on being as productive as possible in every moment, it can make resting seem like a waste of valuable time. Or even something you have to earn. But it isn’t a waste to rest. And you don’t need to do anything special to deserve it. We need to allow ourselves those slow, silent, calm moments. Resting is productive. It is essential care that we must give our bodies and minds. If you are on a long journey and break your leg, it is much more productive to rest and let it heal than try to continue and prevent your leg from ever getting better.

Even though logically I acknowledge all of these arguments, it is still hard for me to make time for resting. For example, I haven’t allowed myself to take a nap for years. Even though I have just gotten a new game for my Nintendo Switch that I paid a lot of money for, I can’t seem to allow myself any significant amount of time to sit down and actually play it. Even when I finish my to-do lists ahead of schedule, I end up tacking on more things instead of enjoying my free time.

This weekend I am going to try to actually schedule time for taking it easy. Apart from teaching yoga on Saturday morning, I am going to have five days off. I’m hoping that by planning a break for myself it will be easier for me to honor that time to myself. I want it to be something I can look forward to as I make my way through another hectic week. I’ll even plan some nice self care activities to treat myself with. One of which is going to be doing some LSD with my best friend and my sister. It has been far too long since I’ve tripped. A nice brain-reset is long overdue.

It seems like I am much better at giving advice than applying it to my own life. But I hope that even though I struggle to allow myself the rest I need, I hope that for those of you reading this that you will make time for it. You really do deserve to rest, to relax, to unwind. It isn’t a waste of time. It is an important act of self love that will benefit your physical and mental health tremendously. You are worth so much more than your productivity. You deserve to rest.

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Find Your Tribe

After reading Ishmael, the book I mentioned in another blog post, I’ve been reading another book by the author, Daniel Quinn. In this book, titled Beyond Civilization, he discusses how human beings can change society and live in a way that works better for not only the environment, but for us as well. There are so many insightful and profound things within just the first few pages. I absolutely love this author and cannot wait to read all he’s published.

In Beyond Civilization, Quinn explains how for the majority of human history, we lived in tribes. Once we broke away from that and built social hierarchies, that’s when he had our “fall from grace” so to speak. Not only have our societal systems, governments, and particularly capitalism led to the destruction of our planet, they have also created a culture of violence, apathy, drug abuse, and mental illness.

He uses circuses as a metaphor, likening them to modern day tribes. He explains that unlike big corporations like Amazon, a small circus creates an atmosphere of personal interest in the success of the group as a whole. At Amazon, the people in the warehouses most likely feel no personal attachment to the company as a whole. Nor does Jeff Bezos give a single fuck about any of his employees. Quinn explains that the members of the circus, while technically employees, work not for the money, but earn the money so that they can continue to do what they love and keep their group together.

As I was reading this explanation, I realized that I had been lucky enough to stumble into my own tribe! The job I currently have feels so much different than any I’ve had in the past. There are a lot of little things about it that contribute, but I couldn’t really put my finger on why it was so different until now.

At my small non-profit I can literally count all the employees on my fingers. While we do have an executive director, it doesn’t feel like a hierarchy. Everyone understands and respects the value and importance of each position in the organization. Thinking of this group of people I work with as my tribe makes so much sense. It feels more like a tribe than just a job. I couldn’t explain it exactly before. Explain why suddenly I don’t mind working late or going above and beyond what’s required of me. Why I desperately want to do a good job, not so I’m not fired, but so I can be an asset to my team, my friends, my tribe.

At all my old jobs, my goal was to do as little as possible without being fired. I was absolutely indignant if I had to work late or miss a break. It was painfully apparent that if I wasn’t being paid, I would not be there. At my job now, I look forward to being there. I no longer dread Sunday evenings. I am happy when I wake up to go to work. I truly feel like I am a part of something, rather than just another cog in a huge machine. I genuinely never knew it was possible to feel this way about work.

We’re conditioned to accept that for the majority of people, work is an unpleasant requirement of staying alive. It isn’t fair, it isn’t fun, but it is a necessary evil. I felt this way my whole life. And I’m sure I still would working anywhere else. What makes this job different is that it is such a small organization. We all know each other. We all care about each other. We all see the value and worth of what we do together. We are a tribe. We work to support one another and our organization, not for a paycheck.

Quinn has helped me understand that this is the way humans used to live. Things were smaller, more intimate, more meaningful. He believes we can change society so that we may all benefit from this type of system again. It is something I had never dared to dream. And while I still think humanity is too far gone at this point, I hope that he’s right. It feels so good to hope. And to experience a small piece of that life I hope everyone can have someday. I sincerely hope that you can each find a tribe of your own out there.