Making (and Taking) Time to Create

At the end of August I wrote about Heeding the Call to Create and promised that my next post would be about finding time to create. In the interim we went from Panic to Peace  with Hurricane Irma.  I also realized it’s not so much about finding time as it is about making time. So today I’m going to fulfill that August promise before September is over!

Current journal and tea – morning routine

Back in 2014 when I first started a regular “writing habit” I was thoroughly convinced that I didn’t have time to write. Even though I’d been wanting to write since I was a kid and over the years I had filled dozens of tiny spiral bound notebooks with my scribbling, I kept telling myself I didn’t have time. I was too busy. I wrote on the train on the way to work. I wrote when I was sad or angry and needed to get my feelings out. But I didn’t make it a regular part of my life. It was something I wanted to do but I was too busy.

I remember the first day I sat down at my great-grandmother’s Singer foot pedal sewing machine and started writing in a full sized journal. I set a timer for 15 minutes. I could hear my son in his bedroom, probably needing my attention at that very moment. I could feel my anxiety rising as I thought about getting dinner ready. “I really don’t have time for this.” But I sat and wrote and when the timer rang I closed my journal and put it away. And then I did it again the next day. Gradually I built up a new habit. A month or so later I read The Artist’s Way and decided to start doing Morning Pages. That required more commitment than the 15 minutes a day of “Scanner” notes which I’d been doing, While Julia Cameron claimed that you could write 3 pages longhand in 20-30 minutes I found that it was more like 35-40 minutes for me. But by that time I was hooked. I started getting up at 5:30 in the morning to give myself the time to write. And it felt great. I haven’t stopped since and it’s been over 3 years of daily writing. Yes, I even wrote before, during and after the hurricane! If you’re interested in starting a regular creativity habit, read on!

The first step is awareness that this is something you really want to do. Is there something that you always tell yourself “I’ll do that when I retire”, or “When I’m on vacation I can do that, ” or perhaps it’s “When the kids grow up”? It might not feel like a step in the right direction, but simply admitting to ourselves that there’s something that we want to do FOR ourselves is a big deal. The idea of writing regularly had been with me for several years before I started doing it. What’s been tickling the edges of your consciousness for months or even years?

The next step is looking closely at your current time commitments. Those fifteen minutes between homework and dinner didn’t seem like much time but they were enough to get me started.  Fifteen minutes was the most I could commit to when I first started. And since my goal was to write by hand it was important to start small. If you don’t use those muscles they get sore! If you’re telling yourself you can’t find fifteen minutes in your day take a closer look. Do you use Facebook? Instagram or other social media? Do you watch television? I don’t want you to stop reading, because I believe the suggestions in this post can help you find time for your own creative practice, but you’re online right now.  Get really honest with yourself about how you spend your time. You may even want to track how much time you spend online using a tool like Checky or Moment. I was surprised to read that people are spending up to 23 hours a week online and texting in this Business News Daily article.

Another way that we convince ourselves that we don’t have enough time is by doing things for other people that they could be doing themselves. This happens most often when we have children who will happily absorb all of our time if we allow it. Setting limits and sticking to them may seem hard or unfair. However, in the long run if you’re being unfair to yourself, you may become resentful. Let your children do some of the things you’re doing for them and give them the satisfaction of gaining independence.  Another way our time gets absorbed is by taking care of a loved one who is elderly or has health issues. Ask for help if you need it and take some time for yourself. Otherwise you’ll burn out and may end up with stress related health issues yourself.

Some of us (I’m not guilty of this one) also spend a lot of our free time cleaning house. When it’s all said and done do you want to be the one with the sparkling toilet or would you rather have made a beautiful painting, written a poem or story, or participated in a community theater project?

Finally, look at how much time you’re spending on work and determine if it’s a wise investment. One of my clients was staying well beyond the eight hours a day she was being paid for AND working on weekends. She wasn’t being paid overtime and the company didn’t demonstrate any appreciation for her extra effort.  When she stopped spending more than 40 hours and started taking back her time, her life improved and now she’s dreaming of what she really wants to do. If you’re putting in a lot of extra hours or obsessing about your work even when you’re not physically doing it, please pause to consider why and what you could be doing instead.

Starting a new habit can be challenging and sticking with it can be even harder. I loved the suggestions in B.J. Fogg’s Tiny Habits TED Talk and it helped me to make writing part of my life. Start very small, tie it to an “anchor” behavior which is something you always do (like brushing your teeth), and reward yourself when you do it, even if it’s only to give yourself a “high five” in the mirror! The reward might be something intangible like the great feeling you get from knowing you’re creating something important to you. You can keep your habit in place by putting in on your schedule. I write my creative times on my calendar, just like a regular appointment and I stick to it. On those rare occasions when “Morning Pages” become “Evening Pages” I still know I’ve accomplished my creative goal for the day. You can also check off your creative goals from a “to do” list and it’s satisfying to see those check marks adding up.

Another step in developing a creative habit and making it part of your life is accountability. I was initially very shy about my writing but I joined an online group (which has since dissolved) led by Courtney Carver. The members of the group supported one another in our writing endeavors and provided feedback. If you tell someone else  that you’re going to blog every two weeks or write in your journal every day or paint for 15 minutes a day it helps to have someone to check in with. This can be a friend who will cheer you on or you can look for a group. There are groups on Instagram that have challenges to post a creative project daily for a week, a month, 100 days or even a year. Depending on what your creative output and commitment is you can can always find inspiration and support for your goals. Just don’t fall victim to “compare and despair” and feel that your work isn’t as good as someone else’s work! And yes, I realize I just recommended cutting down the amount of time spent online but it is a way to find encouragement and support.

For some people investing in their creative habit will help make it stick. I joined a class on children’s writing led by Jon Bard called “It’s Your Time” and the fact that I had paid for the class was a good incentive for me to continue writing. You can also work with a coach who will help you through all of the steps, from being aware of your creative calling, to making time for it, developing it into a consistent practice, and providing accountability for you to continue.

A few of the over twenty journals I’ve filled since I began making time for my creative practice.
And a few more…

Is there something in your life that’s calling you to create? Please share in the comments. Start with a few minutes a day, you never know where it might lead you… And now I’m going to paint for a few minutes before I start preparing dinner!

My antique suitcase full of journals…time to buy another!


 

 

 

From Panic to Peace: finding calm in the face of a storm

On September 5th when I went to the South Miami Target they were already out of water, batteries and many of the other “necessities for your hurricane preparedness kit”. They had a lot of sardines. At that point I was still feeling okay, there was a good chance in the predictions that Hurricane Irma would track to the east. On September 6th I helped my in-laws put on their hurricane shutters and got an enormous headache that night, probably from dehydration.

1 of 18 hurricane shutters

I also had my first panic attack with pounding  heart, nausea and dizziness. We were planning to stay in our house. It was built in 1950 and has a strong hip roof (an actual type of roof, not a roof that practices yoga nor one that is up on all the latest trends) and flexible accordion shutters that lock and are built to withstand extreme wind and impact from flying debris. However, we also have a yard full of trees including an amazing  Live Oak tree that was planted when the house was built. It’s right outside our son’s bedroom. I began to run through worst case scenarios and it wasn’t pretty.

Our 67 year old Live Oak tree and the corner of our house

By the 7th the panic was getting the best of me. I had a dream about escaping with nothing but my antique brown suitcase and my rainbow tie dye bathing suit. My journal entry that morning included the following under Thoughts to Clear – “I am going to die in the upcoming hurricane. ” I closed most of our shutters and locked them. The house was dark inside.

Accordion Shutters

Calls from anxious family members and friends increased my feelings of fear. I convinced my husband that we should go to his parents’ house for the storm, taking the dog, cats, food, and water. Although my in-laws are in a potential flood zone they didn’t have any huge trees over their house. My husband came home from work at lunchtime to put up plywood shutters on the two small windows at the rear of the house that didn’t have accordion shutters. I spent the afternoon taking all of our pictures off the walls and wrapping them in heavy black plastic and duct tape. What would I miss the most if it were lost? Our pictures, my journals, the scrapbooks my mother-in-law has made for my son and husband, my great-grandfather’s fiddle. I tried not to keep checking the storm track on the NOAA website but it was like an addiction. I wanted to know what was happening even though I had no control over it. The storm kept growing larger and had decimated the areas it had already hit.

In the late afternoon I took a break and checked my email. There was a message from Shiloh Sophia, about Whispering to Hurricanes. It wasn’t written only to me, it was to all of her subscribers, but it felt as if it had been written just for me. I read it and cried and went out to sit under the Live Oak tree, perhaps for the last time, and told her how much I loved her. I thanked her for sheltering our house from sun and rain, for being a home to animals and orchids, for making so many acorns last year for the squirrels, for being the site of my “sit spot”, an outdoor meditation practice that I have been doing for many months. I prayed for her to make it through the storm. I curled up between her roots and felt loved and held. I found peace.

My sit spot and where I found peace

The 5:00 advisory from NOAA announced the storm was shifting, not to the east, but to the west. While this meant devastation to the Florida Keys and much of the west coast of Florida, it also meant that we would not receive a direct hit in Miami as had been predicted. We breathed a tentative sigh of relief. It was our 9th family anniversary. We had adopted our son in China on this date in 2008. We didn’t celebrate although we did find a moment to take a family portrait on the love seat, with all of us sweaty and exhausted from preparing for the storm. We spent that night in our house. My journal entry included a gratitude list of all that I am grateful for. It was a long list.

The next morning the track continued to go west. I went back to my in-laws to retrieve the dog’s crate and food, my son’s food and some gin.  I helped my father-in-law cut down the awning over their porch so it wouldn’t pull off part of the roof. The storm wasn’t due until the following day but already there were strong gusts of wind and rainstorms as the outer bands from Irma swirled towards us. The power was out when I returned home. Throughout the day the wind and rain increased. I found myself looking at the things around us with a new sense of appreciation but also a realization of impermanence. What happens to those people who have no warning, in an earthquake, a fire, a flood that you don’t see coming?  What would you try to save?

Sunday morning, September 10th, Irma continued west and we had a normal breakfast. We have a gas stove that can be lit with a lighter and a small generator that kept our freezer humming along and our cell phones and computers operating.

A marvelous invention!

We were able to communicate with our loved ones and reassure them that we were safe. The tropical storm force winds whipped leaves and branches from the trees,  and snapped some trees at the trunk.  Hard rain came in bands and we were happy we had reinforced the front door with sand bags, a tarp, and our large TV cabinet. My relief at having dodged the worst of the storm shifted to sorrow for those who were being hit hardest. I worried about our greyhound who was afraid to go out in the rain and wind.  Each time the rain stopped and I opened the back door to look outside, the landscape had changed. More palm fronds on the ground, another small tree down, our neighbor’s wild almond tree snapped in half and lying in the back yard. Finally, around 6 p.m. the storm lessened and we were able to get Magi outside to relieve himself. It had been 22 hours since he’d last gone!

I checked on our neighbors’ friends who were expecting a baby and staying next door, broke out the gin, and started cooking dinner. We had made it. “It’s good to alive” as my husband posted later that night. And amended “to be alive.”

On September 11th, the anniversary of the terrorists attacks on the U.S, we walked outside to an altered landscape. The sound of chainsaws filled the air and we realized how lucky we were after seeing other homes that didn’t fare as well as ours.

A neighbor’s poinciana tree that snapped in the wind

We checked in with friends and neighbors, offering ice and cold drinks. We rescued two of our neighbors’ five koi that had made it through the night without a working aerator.

Our neighbors’ fish, enjoying the bubbler in our pond

People we had formerly only waved at now stopped by to offer gasoline for our generator. Disaster can bring out the best in people. On our 10th day without electricity we are now accustomed to cold showers, cooking on the gas grill and walking around with a headlight.  The streets are mostly clear and school is scheduled to reopen tomorrow after more than a week of being closed.  Clean up continues and there are power companies from all over the U.S. and Canada restoring electricity to Florida. Many of our neighbors now have power and I’m editing this post and adding photos from the comfort of one of their air conditioned houses.  Soon I’ll go back home and I know I won’t remain in a peaceful state for the entire day. Bands of frustration, impatience, and anger will be interspersed with moments of sincere appreciation for little comforts like ice in a glass of water, enjoyment of the fact that I have a house to return to, the feel of a fan blowing on my skin, and connection and love for my family. I don’t expect to stay in a state of bliss but I’m a lot more aware of when I’m happy. Watching the stars at night, seeing the breeze blow through the branches of the Live Oak and taking clean laundry off the clothesline are all opportunities for experiencing peace and joy.May you be happy. May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you love and be loved.

p.s. We are now tracking Tropical Storm Maria and won’t put the generator away, even if power is restored!