Creating… Because you have to

This is my first post. I have now been blogging for six months and decided to re-post it. Happy I’ve been able to show up every week, can’t believe 6 months has rolled around so quickly – please enjoy…

I didn’t initially know what to call this article, however, I did know that being a creative isn’t an option for me. I need to state I’m not talking about creating for work or a product, but just being creative for creativities sake. I believe that creating is part of who we are, we are a creative species. The thing is, we’ve got so caught up in product-driven creativity that something about the process has been lost. And, it’s such a shame.

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Success, what is it? Part Two

Wow, my world has changed in the last 7 days. Everyone’s world has. I just have to mention this before getting on with this week’s topic on success. I’m now working at home, my partner has no work, and New Zealand has been put into lock-down for one month, which started two days ago. I really hope we can beat this thing. Statistics around the world are becoming more and more disturbing and, at times, it is difficult to maintain positivity. However, I have been turning to my creative outlets. Even the smallest of things I create are bringing some joy.

And, to me, my blog is one of my creative outlets, so, ‘success’, in a time of uncertainty.

What is success?

Last week I introduced the idea of individual success and personal success. So, just to catch up anyone that hasn’t read part one I will outline the definitions. Individual success is how you succeed on your own within a group, and how that group view this success. Personal success is what you believe to be successful. They can be the same thing, but more than often, they are not.

New app I’m plying with: Rookie Cam

Last week I also conveyed the idea that the American Dream is linked to a certain way western culture think about succeeding and particular outcomes which contribute to this.

I’ve (surprisingly) meet quite a few people who do not believe that, living in New Zealand, American culture has a lot to do with us. I find this surprising, I just think it is so obvious, but anyway…

When my daughter was around 4 – 6 years of age she would often have friends around to play. I would pop my head in from time to time to see what they were doing and noticed how they spoke to each other in an American accents. Most other parents I talked to also commented on this. Over the years I’ve reflected on this. Of course she was modelling play-time from TV shows. Television is where she saw ‘pretending’ and so it is fair to say that she was mimicking this as a learning tool.

At that time less than 20% of our television was created in New Zealand.

I know this is purely anecdotal, however the American Dream is a way of viewing success and I believe it has filtered into every aspect of western culture. And, of course, New Zealand is not alone in this. How we view success is often mediated through privileged American thought. What American media deem to be successful is now how we rate individual success.

We understand our world, decipher meaning, and interpret society from what is happening at THAT specific time and space. My great, great grandmother was a successful mid-wife, her community (a small local in the South Island of New Zealand), thought of her as successful, she did not have the American Dream slanted reality to live up to. Her specific time and space brought about specific understandings of the world.

However, my community is world-wide, the potential for me to have community success is a lot more treacherous. Success, for me in my time and space, is not just being successful at a particular ‘thing’ in the community, it is about money, fame, beauty, winning, overcoming in order to have a ‘success story’; the list goes on. And none of it is particularly useful. However, like my daughter, we mimic and interpret our particular time and space.

This is why I think that individual success and how it is measured is particularly difficult for creatives to navigate. Creatives and creativity are seen and measured within harsher parameters than many other activities or professions. Writing a novel is not celebrated, it’s only taken notice of when it’s on a best sellers list, films are measured on box-office takings, albums are measured on sales, paintings on their auction price. Money directly linked to the outcome of the creative arts.

I’m in no way saying that monetising what creatives do is not important, I’m just saying it’s not everything. I’ve been to plenty of films with huge box office takings that in my opinion they were not successful films. What they succeeded at was fitting a mould for a market – and that is all.

The value of individual success rapidly lessens when you carefully consider what it means in western culture. Personal success is where we should all be challenging ourselves with. Understanding what we believe success to be. Not what a monetised system tells us it is.

I asked Facebook friends to share their definition of success and I was pleasantly surprised by the answers. Most were more focused on personal success and not what western culture was alluding to. But that cultural pressure is there, and trying to navigate personal success over individual success for most is a battle.

If you are content, challenged, interested, engaged in your own creative activities – take some comfort. That is success. It doesn’t need to be measured by someone else to be valid.

That’s all for now – I will come back to this topic at another time.

Catch you next week xx

Success, what is it? Part One

I’ve been thinking about the term success and what it means, especially for creatives or the creative industry. It’s a strange time to discuss the term success, with everything going on. However, maybe it is also an amazing opportunity to reflect on social constructs, maybe during this time it is easier to see what is important.

The word ‘success’ started as a neutral term. It wasn’t good or bad, it was just an outcome. It fits into the process of doing something, the result neither positive nor negative. Think of the word succeed, not in its positive connotation but in the succession of things. Something will succeed another. The Latin past participle of success is succedere, meaning come after, go near to, come under, take the place of. Ced, cess and ceed all mean go. So, you can see that the word originated with the outcome of a process in mind and not the calculated value of that outcome. 

However, from the late 19 century the term success held a ‘positive’ tone within it. Success was now in opposition to failure. Both outcomes, but now with very different meanings. Success began to weave its way into modern modes of being in the world. What it was to have success, be successful, have a success story

Side Note: ‘success story’ was believed to be first termed in France as a critique on literary work. Not because the work was brilliant but rather as to its scandalous character. 

The merriam-webster dictionary defines success as:

  • a degree or measure of succeeding
  • favourable or desired outcome
  • one that succeeds
  • outcome – obsolete

The original “outcome”, (not positive or negative), now obsolete. 

So, success, the definition of a positive outcome, an outcome that meets the intention; and a successful person, (someone who succeeds), must therefore be a person who often meets their desired goal or intention. Seems simple enough. 

I need to vacuum because the house is dirty. I vacuum. Success!

However, success has another layer. The word connotes a mode of success that does not simply mean a positive outcome. We all know this. It has its negative side. And this is what I want to pull out and explore in relation to the arts and being a creative.  

When you Google success, definitions come up, and courses on how to be successful, which when you think about it – it’s odd. How can you teach someone to be successful when all success is – is a positive outcome!? Wouldn’t it depend on the intention? So, here is the problem. Success in our modern western world is obviously not about a positive outcome, it is about a SPECIFIC outcome. Wealth being the number one, along with winning, and fame being another and there is a few more definitions that point to a ‘successful person, who has a ‘success story’…

When we hear about successful stories it is about people who have met this SPECIFIC outcome and only this outcome.  

Hartmut Keil defines the American Dream as being:

Individual success, advancement, materialism, personal success, neighbourliness, naturalness, individuality, freedom, equality, equal opportunity, search for identity, nation purpose, American consciousness, democratic dream, dream of paradise, moving force, liberation of humanity, world’s salvation.

I find it interesting that he uses ‘success’ twice. Once for ‘individual success’, and then for ‘personal success’?? 

What I garner from this, is the individual success is of that person, rather than of a group. They have achieved something on their own while being recognised by a group. This part is important to point out as individual and group have a relation, for the success to come from an individual, first they have to be part of a group.

While personal success is something, they ‘own’, as in, they believe they have been successful in something. For example, you could have a businessperson, who is deemed successful by others, however, the same successful person, may believe their real success is being able to spend time with family and friends… you know what I mean.

So according to Keil there seems to be two ways to measure success. 

Individual success: what others think about our success in relation to what is culturally deemed as successful.

Personal success: What we believe our success to be.

I want to point out here that contemporary society is structured so certain types of employments or interests are deemed of different value.

For example, a singer can become known by being good at what they do, the more known the singer is the more is attributed to success. However, a plumber, (for example), doesn’t usually become known – society does not expect this of them to deem them as successful

For creatives, often, fame, or being ‘known’, is linked to individual success. The stakes are high. And because of this, individual success or the lack of it weighs creatives down.

This is where we can turn to personal success. I’m not (in anyway) saying that individual success is not something to aim for or have goals or dreams about, what I’m saying is that personal success needs to be valued higher. Creating is a quality of the human experience that needs to be celebrated no matter what. And we need to hold onto what we LOVE about this process and experience and not what others think of it.

We can’t control others’ thoughts. We can’t control what society deems as important one month and of little value the next. But we can control how we feel about our own creativity.

There is more I want to write on this, and so will return next week to this subject. I just want to acknowledge I brought the American Dream into the picture by quoting Hartmut Keil and there is good reason for that, but not enough time in this post.

So, if interested, please return and read part two.

Catch you next week xx

The Rise of Second-hand Shopping

Last year Newshub reported that second-hand shopping is growing at a “phenomenal rate”, and the trend is likely to rise as customers seek out greener alternatives to fashion. In this same report Newshub suggested that second-hand alternatives will out grow fast-fashion in the next 10 years.

United Nations environment article, Putting the brakes on Fast Fashion states:

The fashion industry produces 20 percent of global wastewater and 10 percent of global carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping. Textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of water globally and it takes around 2,000 gallons of water to make a typical pair of jeans.

Obviously, this can’t go on. So, is second-hand shopping the answer? And, how do we go about it?

This is a pile of clothes a second-hand shop was trying to give away for free – sadly, not enough interest, so it was heading to land-fill.

I’ve always shopped second-hand, so I’m already accustomed to this way of shopping. My wardrobe consists of 80% pre-used clothing. It started when I was in my teens, which is pretty normal as at that time in life most of us were/are on a small budget. However, for me, I just fell in love with the hunt for gems. Now, I must admit, I spend a little more on the second-hand items I purchase, but once you start this practice it is very hard to go back. Now, fast-fashion clothes seem like ‘card-board cutout’, and I’d rather show style than fashion anyway.

However, how do you start this practice if all you have known is fast-fashion shopping. I can imagine the change being super stressful. The thing is with fast-fashion you can see what is the latest trend, go into a mall and purchase something similar on a small budget.

There is a lot going on here. First the need to fit in, to feel socially acceptable. And this fear is REAL. We are, after all, pack-animals, so in the past we survived by fitting in with our group.

Richard F. Taflinger, in the article, Social Basis of Human Behaviour, states:

Another aspect of personal survival is the forming of social groups within a species. When staying alive is not just the responsibility of the individual, but other members of the species help the individual to survive, and vice versa, all members’ chances are enhanced.

This need to fit with our group or tribe is very instinctual, not something modern media created. Media, however, taps into this basic need, and now, sadly, it is deeply ingrained in our western perception of how we should: be, look, behave – and what we should have.

As most of us know, this way of thinking about ‘fitting in’ often starts in our teen years as at this age we are most susceptible to our peers’ criticism. And for a lot of us a cycle of comparing begins. Over the last 30 years the market has completely changed and brands start by capturing the tween-age group. The clothes are made super cheap, and match what is in trend – fitting both the budget and the need to fit in. By the time you are moving into your 20’s you’re totally hooked on this type of shopping, and move onto brands with a slightly more mature look, but with the same production and consumption values.

So, from this so-called ‘safe’ shopping experience how do you move out of this comfort zone and start a lower-impact clothes shopping adventure. It’s tough changing. So difficult. I’m not going to say that it’s going to be easy. However, it is rewarding, if you’re just beginning on this journey, or if you don’t know where to start – just start, see what happens.

Love this quote from, Wendell Barry:

Always in the big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fear of the Unknown, and it is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into.

So if you want some tips, (there are so, so, so many YouTubers and Bloggers who are focusing on just this issue), here is a post from ‘Trash is for Tossers’, giving a step by step guide to second-hand shopping. And I also recommend Useless Wardrobe, who puts out inspiring content on this topic every week.

Also, if you don’t want to go to (actual) second-hand shops, there are hundreds, if not thousands, online, from everyday brands to designer. Just for starters, Thred-up or Vestiaire Collective are places to start, and then… literally ‘the world is your oyster’… or if you don’t like oysters, then, ‘the world is your, (insert fave in here)’. I try to shop locally, or with online sellers in my country or region. I just think it is another way to lower my impact, however whatever it takes to break the ‘fast-fashion’ spell, in my opinion, is worth a go.

I was chatting to my partner about writing this post, and he asked a very good question, ‘How does this relate to creativity?’ He asked because he knows I’m trying to keep my blog-posts within a certain theme or framework. It got me thinking.

For me I’ve always loved style. But this did not come from a self-style ambition, it came from people watching, music videos, period-film, street art, and so on. Style captures a time, place, feeling, subculture. It pulls and pushes from the need to connect with a tribe and the desire for individualism. It’s secular, seasonal, it ebbs and flows, it is for the young and the very old, there is something about true style that announces someone, but this type of style has nothing to do with fashion. Style is creative. I just love this small creative post from BlackPants, outing the differences between style and fashion.

Style, for me, is knowing who you are, and when you put on the clothes you’re most comfortable and confident in, you forget about them and get on with your day. I think discussing fashion, production, consumption AND style, subculture, creativity – is something for this blog.

So is secondhand shopping the answer? Truly? I don’t know. BUT, I find enjoyment from the pieces I collect, and satisfaction that I’m somehow, in the smallest of ways, protesting against the fast-fashion industry. Does it make a difference? Again, I don’t know, BUT, it makes a huge difference to me – so that’s worth it.

You’re Your Biggest Asset

You know those times when filling out some financial form or statement and you have to list your assets: house, rental property, investments, bonds, vehicles… and so on it goes. We all write down or tick different things according to our situation. I always have this moment where I think, ‘I don’t have enough’, or ‘I need more things that other people have’.

I’m not sure about your culture, but in mine we keep our financial circumstances private. I live in a house – but do I own or rent? My partner has a vehicle – but does he own it, or is he paying it off? I have appliances, but again are they owned, rented, or on HP? It’s easy to look at others from the outside and start comparing based on the items you think they own, but you never really know anyone’s situation.

It’s strange to think that when we are filling out these forms, and the question is, ‘what is your largest asset, or what is your largest financial asset, that we don’t write: ‘ME‘. I am.

I am my biggest asset. I am my biggest financial asset. I am my biggest investment. Even if you are not working, you are your biggest asset – in every way.

You have to be, it doesn’t make sense to write anything else down. What you are doing, what decisions you have a head of you, what your possibilities are – is everything. YOU are your biggest asset.

It’s not often that I purchase a large asset, or an expensive item. But when I do I’m pretty chuffed. For example I once bought myself a small red French car and I LOVED IT. At first, I cleaned it, took it through car washes, bought smelly hanging things for the rear window – did all the things. I was, ‘car proud.’ Yep, that was me, it was shortly lived, but during that period I spent money, energy, time and thought on that car. It’s a pity that, even knowing I’m more important than a car I don’t always care for myself the way I cared for this vehicle.

Even though I’m my biggest asset, and always will be, I often don’t spend, money, energy, time and thought on myself. In another perspective if someone else was looking after me and treated me the way I sometimes treat myself, it would probably be called – neglect.

There are so many reasons why we end up neglecting ourselves, and often circumstances, such as financial difficulties or health come into play. However, if we understand that we are the most important person in our lives, we may just treat ourselves with a bit more respect, love, grace, and forgiveness.

Even now, it is hard to write that I’m the most important person in my own life – shouldn’t that title go to my children, partner, parents, siblings, friends… that’s what I have always told myself, that all these others come first. But now I think that it is OK to think of yourself as the most important, because it actually doesn’t negate how you feel or treat others.

For example, if I had a tool or machine that made my income for me, provided for myself and others – wouldn’t I look after it? I would probably take it in for checks, get someone in to fix it when it was needed, purchase replacement parts, keep it in good running order – because it’s an asset. So why don’t we do that for ourselves? Logically it makes sense to keep ourselves healthy, spend time on ourselves, rest, do all the things to keep us going, so we can work, provide for our families and spend time with others.

If this makes sense, then why are we doing everything-but looking after ourselves? Laurie Buchanan, PhD states:

Self-care is a deliberate choice to gift yourself with people, places, things, events, and opportunities that recharge our personal battery and promote whole health — body, mind, and spirit.

We need to take stock of what is important to us and include those things/people in our lives. It’s not easy, I can be so harsh on myself, the energy I do use on myself can be so negative – but lately, especially since starting this blog – I’ve been really facing myself a lot more and realising I need to spend money, energy, time and thought on myself to sustain a fulfilled and creative life.

I will leave you with this wonderful quote from Kamal Ravikant:

Any negative thought is darkness. How do you remove it? Do you fight fear or worry? Do you push or drown away sadness and pain? Doesn’t work. Instead, imagine you’re in a dark room and it’s bright outside. Your job is to go to the window, pull out a rag, and start cleaning. Just clean. And soon enough, light enters naturally, taking the darkness away.

Catch you next week xx

Creating (In) A Team

Creating in a team can be complicated, especially if team members don’t agree to the direction of a particular element of the process. I’ve worked in a number of team situations, and in different positions within teams.

A garden friend I received as a gift from students.

One of the biggest complaints I hear about the creative team process is when members ideas are not used. Being a team member, does not mean the creative idea you come up with will be chosen, however, to work well and really enjoy the process you need to be willing to constantly offer up ideas. And that is all it is – just an idea, you’re not offering your soul, so there is no reason to take it personally.

At times this can be difficult as we think if our idea is not good enough for the project, we are not good enough – but that is not the case. If you were not good enough, you probably wouldn’t be on the team in the first place. The willingness to offer ideas and then sacrifice them confidently for another shows a huge ability to concentrate on the WORK rather than the SELF. The work is why you are there, the work is what you are projecting towards, the self needs to take a step back and let the work have priority in that moment. Even if you think you’re idea is better, you need to leave it behind and keep moving.

When my ideas are not in-line with the direction of the project, but I think they’re great  I usually put them on the back-burner for another time. You never know when you’re idea might just fit or solve an issue somewhere else.

Another difficult aspect of giving an idea forward is when the idea is initially taken up, but changed to the point that it is not your idea anymore. However, this is the definition of working in a team, everyone will add, change, adapt, transform – all the things, to push your idea into a place where it will best fit the work. Remember it’s about the WORK.

Also, when you start out in creative industries, often your ideas are not even asked for. Instead you are part of a larger department that is putting others ideas into practice or reality. At this point, it’s usually best to just learn from others or even learn from others’ mistakes.

Once I presented a creative idea to my manager and then that same person presented that idea to the management team as their own. This was difficult to stomach, however, in the end, I took it as a huge nod towards my own creativity – if they didn’t think the idea was good in the first place, it never would have been used.

There is so much to discuss about creating with a team and being a team member, but I’m going to change track here and discuss team leadership. I’m not an expert, there are many out there, a lot of books and information you can get on this topic, however, I’m just going to write about what I know and the experience I’ve had.

What I know that working as a team member and being a team leader, are very different – or at least they are for me.

I learnt quickly that sometimes I just needed to let go of my creative ideas, even though I had the vision for the project. Especially when I had brought in creative-specialists and crafts people. This is difficult, because I had envisioned the project outcome in a certain way and was adamant that it should stay the way I saw it. But letting go taught me a lot. First, just because someone else’s idea is better for the project or solves a problem more easily does not mean that it is not your vision. Taking on others ideas and advice is often essential to gain the outcome you need.

In my leadership experience I started with small teams, however projects grew very quickly, (probably too quickly). I found the same problems I had at the beginning, were still there but augmented in the larger projects. Once I realized this I tried to reflect on similar things I was doing. If I did the same things – I would get the same results, I wanted different results so I needed to change up what I was doing. Sounds logical – but you have to stop and reflect to actually make a change.  

There are often other issues to consider when working in creative teams, and first off is usually the budget. I have found that when the budget is bigger the freedom is tighter. There are more constrictions and more elements and people to contend with. When the team and budget is small it is often more creative (in a way), because you have to solve problems differently.

I actually have done a lot of reading around this topic for this post, but didn’t find anything I really wanted to use. However there is a ton of advice out-there. For me is was learning on the go, both with team work and leadership work. What helped the most in my own leadership was that I’m also a creative, so I understand the process – I think it would be more challenging not being a creative having to lead a creative team. One thing about creatives, I believe, is their plasticity and adaption in the testing stages when it comes to process. So often – it gets worse before it gets better. That messy part of the process is the process. The beginning stages of a creative project can be very slow, however once this incubator stage is over, usually creative projects have a cumulative effect with everything coming together. As I’ve written before you really do need to trust the process, and trust your team’s process.

I’d love to hear how you deal with your own creative process, or leadership methods you have instilled when leading a team.

Catch you next week xx

Stepping through ikigai towards Invincible Summer

My dear,

In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love.

In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile.

In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.

I realized, through it all, that…

In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

And that makes me happy.

For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me,

within me, there’s something stronger –

something better, pushing right back.

Falsely yours

Albert Camus: The Myth of Sisyphus and other Essays, (1955).

Shadow on my wall made by my bedside lamp.

Even though the full poem is absolutely stunning and brings together substantial context usually only one sentence in it is quoted:

In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

When looking at the previous sentences, they are building towards this summary sentence, and in a way, this sentence stands on the back of the previous; that whatever is around me, whatever I am going through there is something else I can cling to, something lighter, something outside forces cannot break – something invincibly mine. Interestingly Camus osculates between: hate, love, tears, smile, chaos, calm, winter, summer, always landing on what we perceive as positive, that is until the end when he supplants “sincerely yours” for “falsely yours”.

Why does he end on this note? Why build up so much hope and then leave the poem with uncertainty? Does the word ‘falsely’ negate the poem’s hope, or does it do something else?

Just recently I’ve come across the term, ikigai, pronounced (ee-kee-guy). A Japanese term, which loosely translates into life-value or life’s purpose. Iki, which means life and gai which describes worth or value.

My understanding is that this term originated in Okinawa as early as the fourteenth century, however, only became more commonly known in the late twentieth century and now seems to be very popular.  Wikipedia describes the term as:

‘a reason for living (being alive); a meaning for (to) life; what (something that) makes life worth living; a raison d’etre‘

If you google the ikigai a Venn diagram is likely to pop up intersecting four main questions: what do you love?, what are you good at?, what does the world need?, and what can you be paid for? Where these four elements intersect, is your ikigai. The diagram, is thought to have been created in the early twenty-first century and does not originate in Japan with the concept. So although the diagram can be useful it is worth reading more about this philosophy to understand the complexities.

Much of what I have read, at this stage about ikigai, promotes that your passion in life does not have to be huge, it’s not about what society calls success, or having wealth; it can be about finding small joys which enrich your overall experience of life. It is completely unique to you, so trying to be something others might see as successful, will never be your true ikigai.

Similar to Camus’s poem the forces outside of us cannot dictate our self-worth. Camus lived during WWII and was part of the French Resistance, I’m sure that he experienced (metaphorically and physically) pretty dark times, a horrific winter, so his suggestion that within us there is an invincible summer is a powerful statement.

It is hard to always continue to fight, especially when you wake up in the morning and are filled with dread. I know this feeling.

This is winter, tears, hate – all the things. On these days the “invincible summer” metaphor is laughable. Again I just want to bring in this osculation Camus is working with; love, hate, summer, winter… however, if we think about ikigai, we can think of small moments that mark our day with possibilities; morning coffee, talking to friends, and so on. These too are outside of us and cannot fully bring about ikigai, but they can help us get out of bed in the morning.

Tim Tamashiro states:

Ikigai is an action word, a verb: to serve, to create, to delight, to nourish, to provide, to teach, to heal, to connect, to build.

So once we have had that coffee and are out of bed, we need to ACT.

I know that Camus’s poem and ikigai are not perfectly matched, however I love the distance between them, which allows me to move back and forward from both ideas, trying to nudge more nuances out of them. There is a lovely correlation but also something jarring when you put them up together.

Camus is painting a big picture, giving us an epic sense of triumph, where ikigai is in finding the steps, everything in detail. What both, in their own ways suggest, is that our own worth cannot be found from looking outside ourselves. Competition, comparing, or measuring ourselves against others will never give us what we need, it will never point us in the right direction. Our strength MUST come from knowing ourselves. From here we can move into summer.

Jumping back to ‘Falsely yours’… What I have read is that Camus was writing to a person either in a relationship with him, or a previous relationship. His words suggest that he does not belong ‘truly’ to this person. So I’m going to suggest if he is not someone else’s, he is his own. So Falsely yours, but Sincerely mine. How wonderful – to be your own, without pretence.

If you want to find out more about ikigai (because I am no expert), please use the links below.

Ken Mogi : Finding your life purpose with ikigai

Rob Bell: How to reboot your life with the Japanese philosophy of ikigai

Also, Eckhart Tolle takes Camus’s line and works it in with his own philosophy and spiritual teaching, which I found very interesting.

Eckhart Tolle: Precious Moments of Being Alone – Albert Camus’s “Invincible Summer”

Catch you next week xx

Creative Energy: Part Two

This week I’m returning to the topic of Creative Energy. I wasn’t initially planning to write a part two, however the topic is multi-faceted; there could easily be a part three…

One aspect of energy is time. Often I’ve completed my day at work, commuted home, and now, wanting to do something creative, I realise I’m just too tired. I feel like my time is ‘spent’, my energy falls away, and I struggle just to do a few jobs before falling into bed.

This is an aspect of my life I have been reflecting on for the last few years. I’ve tried getting up very early, but this has only lead to fatigue, I’ve also tried forcing myself to work late into the night. However; forcing, striving, or pushing, never inspires creativity and whatever project I’m working on, it feels more like a chore than a release.

So what to do about time? If we can’t create more, how do we increase our energy?

I simple can’t change my hours at work, I want to work and enjoy it, but it’s not everything. So, I need to hold onto enough creative energy for my own passions. My question this week: is there a way to preserve energy so when I get home I’m not completely depleted?

I’ve been reading Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown and I highly recommend it, for anyone who has a full life but is lacking in energy, or wants to turn a messy, over crowded, over complicated life into something more refined.

The book reminds us that we are living in a pressure-styled world with demands constantly pulling us in multiple directions – at all times. In this world we are encouraged, through technology and media, to speed up, do more, and do it faster. However, contrary to this belief Essentialism suggests that slowing down will give us back time and energy.

I know! It’s not the first thing that springs to mind but slowing down, doing one task at a time with purpose, and letting go of off ALL the other unessential activities we don’t need to do, can bring back the energy we are so often lacking.

One of the unessential activities I need to let go of, is social media. When I say this I don’t mean I will ban it from my life completely, but rather timetable its use. So I will use it to wind down and catch up, (just not every 10 minutes). But social media isn’t where it ends. There are multitudes of tasks at work that pile up, and I’m often feeling overwhelmed and unsure on how or where to start.

Essentialism suggests, time and energy go hand in hand, if we can’t cut our time at work we need to slow down at work so we have an energy store when we get home. That does not mean that we are non-productive, instead we are actively finding procedures, solutions and habits that make us very productive, in less time and with more energy left over.

Richard Koch, suggests:

Most of what exists in the universe – our actions, and all other forces, resources, and ideas – has little value and yields little result; on the other hand, a few things work fantastically well and have tremendous impact.

The tricky part is knowing what to focus on, what can be left for another time – or maybe, doesn’t even need doing.

Greg McKeown writes:

The benefits of this ultra-selective approach to decision making in all areas of our lives should be clear: when our selection criteria are too broad, we will find ourselves committing to too many options. What’s more, assigning simple numerical values to our options forces us to make decisions consciously, logically, and rationally, rather than impulsively or emotionally. Yes, it takes discipline to apply tough criteria. But failing to do so carries a high cost.

For the last couple of weeks, while reading Essentialism, I’ve used had two notebooks open at my desk, one is my Bullet Journal, which I discussed in December Reflection: Part One, and one is an empty journal open to a blank page where I write the date and title ‘Brain Transfer’. In my Bullet Journal, I have listed three tasks I want to concentrate on that day – YES, you did read it correctly, THREE TASKS ONLY. These are the three main tasks I want to work on. This doesn’t mean that I won’t or can’t work on other tasks, but I’ve prioritised my time, so if they are all I get to, that is fine.

In the other journal, I write notes throughout the day, things like: remember to call HR back, email students to remind them of their looming presentations, book in a screening time with guest lecturer, and so on. These are either, little reminders that pop up into my head, emails and responsibilities I need to get to, or tasks that are given to me throughout that day. Instead of reacting to them in that moment, I put them to the side. This does two things. First, it allows me to fully concentrate on one of my prioritized tasks without interruption, and secondly it keeps a record of my to-do list, so I don’t fully drop the ball.

During the day, I have been scheduling two fifteen minute sessions to get the small stuff done; for example, the short emails, returning a text, booking gear and so on. It is amazing how many of those small tasks you can knock out quickly in clusters.

Then at the end of the day, I look closely at the ‘Brain Transfer List’; are there things that I don’t actually need to do? Are there meetings that I don’t need to attend? Cross these off. Is there anything on the list that needs special attention? That item can become an essential task, something I’m going to highly prioritise during the week. Then with the things left over, they can be put in one of the smaller clusters for the next day.

Sounds simple, it is, but it’s hard to stick to, especially if you are used to interrupting your own attention. If you react to every email, text, or message you will soon become overwhelmed and exhausted. When this happens to me I buffer, scroll through FB, I check out the latest Insta-post, only to realise I still have all the tasks in front of me and don’t know where to start.

I’ve been actively engaging in this practice for two weeks now, (I know I’m still in the honeymoon stage), HOWEVER, I have noticed changes to my concentration at work, and more importantly my creative energy when I get home. For the first time in a long time, last week I came home and powered into a project that had been sitting there for some time. It felt so good to do something creative in the middle of the week – and it gave me even more energy.

I really hope this helps, I know it all sounds a bit naff to start being more strict with time, but it really has worked in the energy stakes for me.

Catch you next week xx

Creative Energy

In Quora a question was placed some years ago: “What is creative energy, and where does it come from?” Anthony Torres gave this answer:

It is the energy of an active, open minded individual who is channeling their inner-will to pursue change with an absence of worldly interference. Creative energy, in general, will come from within, but more specifically, should come from the soul.

I just thought this was a beautiful way to begin thinking about creative energy, especially to note the idea of “absence of worldly interference.” I’m guessing this suggests our constant buffering of our attention, such as; scrolling on a phone, which hinders the flow of concentration. However, the most powerful element in this answer is an individual who is “open minded”.

Last week, (when writing this), I was part of a writing workshop, with two others, to create a possible story line for a web-series.  It was our first meeting, we started at 10am and finished just before 2pm, and, WOW! We got so much done. We bought our note-books and laptops and some initial ideas. That was all. I was unsure of how the process would work, and also unsure on how I would fit into the writing group dynamic. However, my mind was open and I was fully ready for possibilities.

Anna Powers in Forbes.com states:

…open mindedness and innovation are linked — because in order to entertain different and, sometimes contradicting viewpoints, those views either have to be presented or conjured up in the mind as counter examples. Thus, it is through creativity that innovation and open-mindedness go hand in hand.

Open mindedness has an ability to refrain from becoming ‘stuck’, so easy for us creatives to fall into. There is a way of being that allows the process to take over the project, rather than staying rigid on a mode of creating. I call it ‘trust’ but others will call it something else. I simply trust the process, so as I start doing the work, I let the work take its own course. It’s not staying static though, you have to start the work, which can simply mean sitting down with a pencil and paper, or going for a walk with a camera, or picking up the guitar; the action of starting has to come from you, then you can allow the process can take over.

That is not saying that you don’t have an intended outcome it’s just admitting to yourself that you don’t have all the answers to get there, but you’re open to finding out how. The Encyclopedia of Creativity suggests:

A creative person, virtually by definition, must be receptive to new ideas and willing to look at problems from various points of view. Open-mindedness includes not fearing the new, different, or unknown and not making up one’s mind in advance.

So our writing group meet, and we started forming the characters, their motivations, the story arch and cliffhanger end for episode 6 – quite a lot of work accomplished in one meeting. I just want to go back to the first point made in Torres’ Quora answer about the absence of worldly interference. This aspect will be very different for everyone depending on their creative pursuit, I pretty much put any technology down and just use a pen and paper to start the story process, however your pursuit may involve YouTube tutorials, or online courses, or searching on your phone, but in my mind that is using technology as a tool and not as interference. It is staying focused and not allowing that technology which you are creatively using to become a distraction.

Our writing group met in a conference room, which is pretty plain, there was nothing in the room that any of us personally connected to. I think ‘space’ is very important to enhance the process, it is not necessary to have a perfect space to start but it does switch your brain into a different mode. Have a watch of Annie Lennox discuss the moving-spaces she uses, especially to create the song ‘Sweet Dreams’. (this is around 0:38 seconds in, however the whole discussion is useful). I also enjoy writing and creatively thinking while commuting to work and back.

But no matter where we are distraction on our phones is so common. Looking, scrolling, watching a small rectangular object connected to our hands has become a way of being in the world. However, this way, (which is not positive or negative), is passive (lacks energy) – so when we are creating we need to bring our energy with us. To do this just make a start, like I said before, just pick up the guitar and then continue onwards being open. If you fall back into passivity, that’s OK, just start again until your concentration strengthens and you can move forward.

In our writing group, none of us spent time on social media throughout the meeting, we stayed focused and as we worked through ideas and characters, the structure of our time happened quite organically. We had a couple of short breaks, but did not stop for longer than 15 minutes during the 4 hour period.

When we think about creative energy we focus on; ‘getting the shit done’, ‘ticked off the list’, the ‘desired end result’, which for me would be a scripted web-series. And I love this, LOVE ticking tasks off my ever renewing list.

However, creative energy is the PROCESS, not the outcome. So the energy actually comes from being creative. Put energy in – to get energy out. Just like physical exercise, energy creates energy and as you actively engage in creativity your energy stamina will grow. A good way to expand creative stamina is to undertake exercises in your chosen field. For example someone may knit a scarf, then perhaps a small throw, before going onto something complicated, or someone might work on pinch pots with a particular clay before trying to create a complex structure involving many elements. So when I discuss my creative work in story creation for a web series, I didn’t just arrive at that place, I have learnt the necessary skills and techniques and then as I’ve progressed I’ve been able to focus my concentration and gain the energy I need to see the process through.

It’s very important to know where you are in the process. I’m certainly not saying don’t make a start, for sure jump in and make a start, but just remember from that stepping in place you may not understand the energy you need for the process, there will be learning involved, mistakes along the way, things that you didn’t expect – but stay open and trust the process. As my Yoga instructor says “If you’re on your mat, the hardest thing has already been overcome.” So wherever you are at, start by bringing your energy, trust the process and see what happens.

Catch you next week xx

10 years too Late?

Hello, today I’m discussing why we commit to some projects and not others.

In 2010 I wrote my first blog post but it never went online. Then, in 2012, I started a blog about filmmaking, as clearly the world needed another one of those. This morphed into a blog all about ‘Green’ media production, however, that didn’t last. In 2015-16 I wrote on a couple of different company blogs as part of a media package I was offering, and during this time I learnt different formats and aspects of blogging, but still struggled with a personal connection.

Yet now, 10 years later, I’ve committed to writing regularly! It’s become part of my weekly routine. I think about it. I look forward to the writing. I actively read other blogs. What changed?, and, am I 10 years too late?

Why do we start projects and not commit to them? I know in life there are so many (seemingly valid) excuses; “there are already people doing that”, I’m too old”, “I’m too young… too busy… too lazy… too naïve… too jaded. Yet other times, a project or activity seems to stick. You are able to make a decision, and for some unknown reason you keep at it, you complete it… so why some and not others?

Most of my projects are creative. Some are small personal creative projects no one sees, and others are larger and in the public eye. In most cases, once I have made a decision and understand why I’m doing it, (and believe in the ‘why’), then my project, through the creative process is completed. However, there are some projects, that never really get off the ground, and I would say this about my personal attempts at blogging. I guess it struck me as an informative medium and not as creative as other projects I was already engaged in, so I thought of blogging as an added extra.

Several people suggested that I should start a blog, that it would be good for my filmmaking, as I could create an audience. However, that intention, didn’t work for me. It seemed like a practical or logical thing to do, a ‘job’ or a ‘chore’, and believe me filmmaking already has enough of those… I did take their advice though, I tried, failed, tried… started again, but nope – it never stuck.

Reflecting on this process now, I realise that I didn’t put blogging in the creative basket, and I didn’t believe in the purpose of ‘creating an audience’, it was too time consuming and I didn’t really understand the medium as an art form. However, 10 years after my first attempts here I am. Quite happily writing away every week, not trying to gain an audience for filmmaking, just enjoying the process of sharing thoughts. And, I totally think this weekly writing is way more beneficial for me than for any reader. Not that I don’t want readers, I do, but my reasons are different. I want to engage in conversations, I want to express the difficulties of being a creative in order to assist others’ difficulties in this area. Sounds naïve – yes it probably is, sounds 10 years too late, yes it probably is, but really – who cares.

There are a couple of things to notice about this reflection. I’m not the only creative to start a project only for it to fall over, or never even get to the starting line. When this happens it’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking negatively about yourself. I do. I tell myself I must be lazy, I’m not as creative as other people, I should be driven to succeed… and so on. Well I’m not sure that is always the case. For me, if a project doesn’t gain traction, it usually means it either doesn’t align with my intentions, or it isn’t the right time.

There are certain insecurities that go with the creative process, a constant push and pull. In one regard, I get excited over something I am creating, have that first flush of newness – which motivates me, and then, my insecurities hit, and I wonder if the project meets certain ‘outside’ standards. So if I’m already unsure about the project it’s easy for it to fall over. However, when commitment happens, when my intentions align with the project, even though I go through the creative and insecure ups and downs, my commitment sees me through.

 When I was younger, I would say ‘yes’ to working on other peoples’ projects far more than I do now. My ‘yes’ would often turn out to be a chore. However, thinking back, I often learnt about creativity on some level, or maybe I just learnt how to say ‘no’, I’m not sure. Now, I’m much more careful about my commitments and how they align to my intentions. I understand that the process of a particular creative project, which holds meaning to me, is worth the ups and downs, late nights, and facing my many insecurities.

For me, there is not always an instant knowing if this project is right or not. I sometimes know – absolutely. And other times I feel around a bit, make some moves and see what happens. If it doesn’t gel I usually let it go, or put it on hold having faith in the timing of things. This does not mean the projects I commit to are not hard work, they absolutely are, however, my belief in the project overrides any difficulties I face.

I’m at a stage in my practice where I understand and accept strength in failure and experimentation, so I’m usually happy to start something and realise it is not for me.

What I’m discussing is not the same as not starting something you’ve always dreamed of doing and being so afraid you can’t make any forward movements. If you’re at that place I found this article Waiting, by Luann Udell, which you may find comforting yet motivating. That place of being absolutely stagnant in your creativity, especially if it has been like this for a length of time, is difficult. When I’m here, I often do smaller creative projects or experiments that no one else will see, just to build up my creative muscle again. I found this blog which has many short photographic tasks that you could easily use – for creativities sake, and there are many more like this in different mediums.

This post, I guess, is more for those of us who aren’t afraid to start but then can’t kept at it. If I was here (and I have been and will be again), it’s a time to reflect on the ‘why’. Why are you creating this object, painting, game, album? Does it align with your intentions, do you need more knowledge, materials, collaborators to make it happen. What is your ultimate outcome?

There are times to just make stuff and enjoy the process, but there are also times to reflect on why you are doing whatever it is you’re doing.

I will leave you with this quote from Rod Judkins in the book, The Art of Creative Thinking:

Many creative people find that to be an authentic version of themselves they have to think with their senses. Our minds play tricks on us but our feelings are trustworthy. We have been taught to choose the respectable, socially acceptable and well-trodden path that everyone else walks down. Instead, choose the path that feels right to you.

So if it’s 10 years too late to some sort of normal standard, but you feel it’s right for you – then do it, just get the shit done.