Creative Courage

I just looked up the definition of “courage” and all but one definition stated something to the effect that courage means having the mental or moral strength to stand up for something in the face of pain, fear, or danger.

Over the last week or two, I’ve come to understand courage as applying to all aspects of life and how we live it. We all have pain, emotional or otherwise, we have to deal with and fears that rise up or descend upon us when we least expect them. Which brings me to thinking about the place courage - or being courageous - holds in our creative processes.

Sometimes we suspect our creative projects will bring pain, either in the form of memories or as something we’re dealing with on a more immediate basis. And, as humans and creatives, we don’t like pain. We will often do whatever we have to do to avoid it. Remember, our bodies are imbued with pain avoidance and fear responses as a means of self-preservation but we needn’t always give into the avoidance or fear. Some of us still manage to create, plowing through the fear, knowing full well what we paint or write or sew or express will, in some way, bring pain.

I think creative courage means stepping out of our comfort zones and into those areas which cause a certain amount of pain. We don’t have to be fearless when our natural fear response steps in and revs up. What we have to do is to move through fear and feel the pain in order to come out on the other side.

Sometimes creative courage is more about stepping away from a project in order to get to one that’s truer to a dream we hold. But what often accompanies that is a feeling of failure:  Why did I start this project and now don’t have the resolve to finish it? But maybe it’s not about resolve at all. Maybe it’s more about not being stopped or deterred in the face of the pain that comes when we categorize something as a “failure.”

Or maybe, when we step away from a project we’ve spent a lot of time developing, we feel we've wasted our time. But maybe it’s really more about seeing the original project as an avenue to the truer project. Maybe it’s about looking at the project and realizing the time invested in it isn’t wasted at all, because we always learn from attempts we make in any direction when pursuing creative projects. A few weeks ago, I stepped away from my most current project, giving myself some time for reflection about it because the deeper I got into the project itself, the more it felt less my own. The deeper I went into my reflection of it, the more I recognized my project started bringing a certain amount of anxiety and spiritual dissatisfaction rather than joy and a sense of “rightness.” Within these few weeks, I realized the project - as it had been going along - became less and less the one I envisioned. 

Initially, I thought “Oh, no. Now I’m right back to square one.”  But that’s not true at all. All the things I learned while developing the project are now being channeled into a project that has more to do with my own vision.

I’ve realized creative courage means taking the steps to start a project, regardless of fear and in spite of the pain. But it’s also about taking the steps away from a project, if needed and regardless of time invested, and starting over in order to drill down even deeper into what’s true for me.

I’m wishing you courage to take the steps needed to start, or stop, or restart any project, in the hopes of it becoming aligned with the truest “you” imaginable.


Light Box Epiphanies

Our SW Florida home is designed to keep direct sunlight at bay. Our porches are deep and under cover, shielded by trees and large shrubs. So as I prepare to take pictures of my greeting cards, this wonderful home of ours doesn’t provide enough light of the sort needed to provide the crisp contrast good online photos that prospective buyers need. 

    Hence, the light box.

    I’d first heard about light boxes while taking an online class with Kelly Rae Roberts and then went to YouTube to watch videos. Looked pretty straightforward:  get a large, rectangular cardboard box; cut open two opposite sides and a top, leaving a frame around each opening about one inch wide; attach white fabric to the sides and top, fabric that would provide diffused light while providing enough oomph to get that contrast. Then, a solid back and bottom, covered with said cloth and an open end from which to take the picture.  Put the picture inside, set up lamps on the sides draped in white cloth and maybe a light above, depending how much was needed. Click.


    Well, maybe not. Because by the time I actually got around to making the light box, I’d forgotten all about the need to reinforce those one-inch sections in order to keep the box from collapsing. Let me just say the attempt was not pretty, nor very functional.

    But!…I remembered to ask for help. My wonderfully gifted, contractor/builder husband simply took some sections of cut up cardboard, punched in some holes, and wired it all together as a skeleton of sorts. Now it stands, waiting to do the work.

    As I recalled my measuring, swearing, trying to get the sections evenly spaced, swearing, cutting, swearing, and trying to get it to stand - and saw just how well things worked out once I asked for help - a few realizations came to mind.

    Asking for help and spending time with other creatives provide me the support I need but too much of this draws me into procrastination which I “do” terribly well. I am a serious expert at putting things off.  (I never procrastinate about procrastinating!) On the other hand, time alone allows me to work at this creative life of mine but too much aloneness will ultimately find me descending into isolation and negative self-talk. Not a good thing for me as this type of descent is way too easy for me. Even after all these years, I still have to stay alert to it once again becoming my default reaction. 

    Where's the balance, then, because I’m not convinced we can achieve balance in our lives? We really have little control over what life presents us at the most unexpected times and usually in amounts that can topple us right over. Personally, I’ve never really been able to maintain a balance because sometimes I need more of one thing than the other. 

    So the epiphany this whole light box project delivered is that creativity has to be cyclical for me.

    When I start wondering about the quality of a project - at the very first sign of wondering if something is “good” or what I’m “really trying to say” - well, that’s the time to step away and take myself on a date. When I start staying away from a project, telling myself I’ll get back to it right after [insert any possible excuse], hmmm, that’s the time discipline has to come into play and I have to park my butt wherever I need to, in order to get back to the creating part of things.

    Cycling from idea, to doing, to stepping away to be with others, to coming back and finishing. 

    I think I get it now.


Coming Together

    The longer I thought about writing a very special, very personal message in time for the holiday, the solstice, or the deepening darkness, the more anxious I became. I couldn’t think of a thing to say. I found myself trying to offer a message which could’ve found me back at square one:  trying to post something that wasn’t all together genuine, that was forced and, as a result, against the values this space holds dear. 

    So, I didn’t.

    And then I forgave myself.

    Not for passing on the post, but for trying to force myself to offer something that meant well but fell short on sincerity.

    In the few days since, I’ve had the time to reflect on just how I spent the last week or so and I find myself experiencing a renewed sense of peace. I enjoyed baking cookies - both old, ethnic favorites and new recipes - and the old ethnic ones tasted best. We didn’t decorate outdoors but hung an ancient red cellophane wreath with a candle in the center and the power cord long gone, unable to survive decades of being left in the un-insulated attic on Center Street. That old wreath is still my favorite and I can’t part with it.

    I watered and dead-headed my flowers, fed the wildlife, walked through night-time streets lit by the moon, stars, and Christmas lights. Reflected on how we managed to make this time of year feel real, wrapped in the humid breezes off the gulf stream rather than woolies and heat from the furnace. Griping - just a bit - about the record high temperature of 87 degrees on Christmas day but thankful sub-freezing temperatures are no longer a part of our traditions. 

    And it dawned on me, slowly, that the reason why the ethnic food tastes best, why the old wreath sits in a place of honor, is that they allow me to experience a sense of connection with where I come from and integrate it with where I’ve landed. The traditional foods and customs from my childhood hold distinguished places in my adulthood because I hold a place in the march of my ancestors and continue the legacy given me by them. Quiet routines like making coffee after baking our Slavic nut rolls and still talking to my mother, who is now on the other side, about the price of the nuts and how fresh they were - all are personal treasures. I cherish those old, cardboard Christmas village houses, now paper-thin, even more so since I have to touch up the “snow” on the church steeple with baby powder to cover over years of rust-colored dust and the marks made by chubby children’s hands over time.

    These are timeless traditions for me and this year, they quietly mingle with an elusive ability, newly acquired, if not to forgive the sins and omissions - real or imagined - of the past, then to at least get to a point of practicing forbearance toward them. The realization that I come from a long line of strong women, even if they didn’t show their strength in ways I might show my own, warms me. The ability to celebrate without the stress of hosting “expected” dinners for extended family brings joy and relaxation, both of which often went missing in years past.

    The old recipes and the new. The well-used, well-loved Christmas village and the newer practice of decorating less in order to celebrate more. Young and old. New and used. All form and fill the vessel called Soul. The past to be blessed for whatever it brought; the present to be lived here and now, in the moment; a future that fills one with hope. 

    Each of which brings us all in connection with each other and can bring each of us to a place of grace and gratitude.

    I wish you connection. I wish you grace. And I am so profoundly grateful for all of you.

Some Thoughts that Come as the Nights Lengthen

    We’ve all had the experience of having to deal with negative thoughts - often about ourselves - that swirl around inside our heads until they become whirlpools of self-doubt. Mine usually come around whenever I dwell too much on the non-acceptance directed at me by relatives and in-laws over the years. Be it the memory of a single incident or the sum feeling of years of incidents, it sometimes pops up and can instantly deflate me. These are the easiest for me to handle:  recollections I quickly recognize for what they are and can release.

    Other memories, more cunning than those easily brushed aside, stream in, a series of small cellophane memories of old home movies that play in my head. I think I manage to push them aside, but they somehow manage to link together as many continuous frames of old dramas and before I know it, I have a mess of stuff to edit away, to leave on the cutting room floor. And, if I’m not very, very careful, all the “stuff” can spiral me downward into a full-blown depression.

    So I’ve been thinking a lot about how to address reactions to painful, old memories.

    Many of us realize we can’t control the events of our lives in every, single case. We try to stay away from situations that might create new and less-than-desirable memories. We know sometimes new situations simply present themselves, distasteful and unavoidable. For me, I remind myself that I can only own my reactions to events like these. Events that suddenly present themselves are generally easier for me to deal with; I try to stay in the moment, picture my boundary wall or protective bubble, and leave as early as possible. Usually, although not always, this keeps too much of other people’s yuck from sticking to me. (My wall and bubble are non-stick, by the way.)

    However, old memories don’t allow us the opportunity to just walk away. They’ve already happened and we can’t change them. But that’s just where our power to deal with them lies:  realizing we can’t change the past or do anything differently to modify the event itself. I can’t go back, no matter how much I might want to do just that, nor can I change anyone’s opinion of me in the context of biological family and family-by-marriage. And a while back - when I paused long enough to really consider their natures and their own family dynamics - that AHA! of realizing their opinions of me don’t mean jack to me was and still is liberating.

    I spent so many years selling myself out by morphing into their vision of what a good Anne should be and of trying to fit in; I don’t waste any more of my life at it. So many years filled with constantly changing rules and expectations - and trying to meet them - found me self-injuring as my life-force seeped from me. My dreams disappeared along with parts of my soul during those years. Inviting those parts back, welcoming their return, and honoring them were hard-fought and hard-won.


    No more self-sacrifice on altars of deception, on dogma that says “Unless you are blood, you will never be enough. Unless you willingly close your eyes and keep drinking from our toxic well of lies and self-deceit, we will never accept you.”

    Fine. Don’t.

    It was time to begin worshipping at a different altar, one of trees and sky, sun and moon, all of creation. An altar that didn’t require deception and self-deception, only love and wonder and awe and gratefulness.

    My dogma - honesty, curiosity, inclusivity - celebrates, it doesn’t denigrate.

    When our thoughts veer toward destructive, let’s focus on the instructive as much as we can. When others’ wounded-ness triggers our own in such a way that we begin to rate our worth according to others’ standards, it’s time to stop. And not just stop but come to a screeching stop.

    I stop. Sit. Remind myself what’s happening. Clear out the remnants of gunk and junk, get back on my own path, worship at my own altar according to my own dogma.

    In this season of shortening days and lengthening darkness, I hope you create beautiful altars unique to you and write your own dogma according to your own truth.

Late Autumn Ruminations

    Every year in late autumn and early winter, a certain type of wistfulness descends upon me, tempting me to consider a visit to the colder climes and snowy days of the Midwest. Yet, when I pause long enough to consider a visit, I remember that only a few days’ experience of frost and cold and snow, of static electricity plastering my fine hair against my head (or, worse still, standing it on end!), of the rub of sweaters drying my skin to the point of prickling and pinching would find me scurrying back to the warm, moist air of southwest Florida.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this wistfulness and wondering why I’m not feeling it this time around. I really have no desire to leave on an adventure and I find a long-elusive sense of contentment settling into my bones. It feels akin to having shed my skin, at a time of year when the harvest of the year’s projects draws to a close and a period of dormancy lies ahead, setting the stage for yet another rebirth and even more growth.

    I can’t help but think that shedding the old cells, the old form that once protected me but then began to confine me, laid the groundwork for this sense of - well, contentment. Perhaps regenerating our lives has much to do with changing the stories we tell about ourselves - to ourselves and others. Personally, I don’t want to go back to the stories - of insufficiency, unworthiness, feeling less-than-good and much less than good-enough - I’ve told myself for decades. A better story for me is one tinged with laughter about the lessons learned over a lifetime and gratitude for those lessons, too.

    Wistfulness - that kind of longing tinged with some type of regret - doesn’t sit at my table this year. I’m not experiencing a desire to return to a time and place of my past. I do wonder what it would be like to be able to talk to my mom and dad again, about this time and from this place, but I have no desire to go back to the miasma of parts of my past.

    This time around finds me enjoying the sun and breezes; laughing at the thought of my fly-away hair now lying limply on my scalp, damp from humidity; smiling at the anticipation of a day cool enough to actually wear a sweater. Then, there’s that deep gratefulness, for the different perspective resulting from the different context from which I choose to view my life, filling all the spaces.