I have a lot to learn about procrastination, as I discovered reading Adam Grant's fascinating article on procrastination vs. pre-crastination. I am a chronic pre-crastinator.
I'm learning to challenge my impulse to act immediately on something and get it done as quickly and breathlessly as possible. Instead, I'm practicing more waiting in my work -- or at least, trying to, often failing.
Stopping is hard for me. I think it's hard for a lot of us. We get caught in a busy trap: neither a creative, balanced, sustainable or even productive way to be, longterm, but a popular state of mind. Filling time and space with activity is an easy addiction. I've spent good time avoiding my emotions, relationships, problems, thoughts and life this way, in recent years, under the guise of accomplishment - or proving my worth through relentless doing.
As I read in Grant's article (read it!), some tests have shown higher levels of creativity in procrastinators. Pre-crastinators like me have this physiological need to start getting things done as fast as possible and finish as early as possible. This doesn't necessarily lead to better results, and often leads to more ordinary ideas. First thought isn't always best thought.
It's important to let life happen. Waiting allows for that. So does wandering. These magic Ws allow for discursive thinking, thinking on the backside of the brain. More evolved ideas emerge. When I practice art in this way -- making and then stopping and stepping away before returning -- the more I become the me I was at 12, 13, 14 years old in upstate New York.
Those days, I spent lots of time in nature in my own independent study. I was home-schooled then, and took advantage of that time to write, draw, read and play as much as I wanted, in between other learning. That me was more friendly toward making, and wasn't perfectionistic or frantic in her art. There was even a sense of laziness to her, which was inherently curious. I watched, observed, let my mind roam. That is the me I'm longing to return into.
She is my ideal. That girl who sat on logs, usually damp felled maples with their bark soft and crumbling off, sketched mallards and built gnome-houses in the woods beside our white barn on Mott Road. As an an adult, approaching 32, I have a lot to learn from her.
As much as a year of ease and joy, perhaps I can make 2016 a year of waiting and wandering. Anne Bluethenthal would be happy to hear about that, my professor who gently pushed me into assigned wandering last winter. I was desperate then, in my making. I didn't quite know that over-working was the thing keeping me treading choppy water while seconds from drowning. Clouded by this deceptive activity, I couldn't quite define what I was doing and I knew it was never enough.
So enough of that. I know I'm enough - or I know I need to know that. I don't need to prove myself to anyone. More and more, I'm actually believing the truths I want my friends and dear ones to hear.
My school is teaching me - or at least reminding me - about how important it is to notice my interests, note them, and follow them. To observe how interests change, how they lead me to discoveries in big/little projects, or to new projects, or to new appreciation of this moment.
Last August at SITI Company's 2015 Boise Workshop Intensive in Viewpoints and Suzuki (two actor training practices I'm mad about, that teach me how to be human as well as how to be an artist), facilitators G.M. Gianino and Leon Ingulsrud stressed the importance of performers finding interest in what's happening around them, rather than trying to be interesting.
And last fall, Elizabeth Gilbert forsook her usual urging for people to find their passions, replacing that with a call for us to follow our interests like hummingbirds.
I realize these are all simple, even obvious teachings. The obvious lessons are the ones that knock me over the most. I always need more simplicity in my life.
Here are some things I noted interest in yesterday morning:
Interests are dots to connect. Bright windows to new universes. They're little creative maps, living map lines that change fluidly, and change me (us?). It amazes me lately, how much it opens me up from my chest, following one interest at a time.
During my first Writers in the Schools residency this year, we spent a whole session focused on what it means to cultivate our interests. It wasn't a waste of time, not one bit. We could have spent a whole month on this road, or a year.
What interests you right now?
On Goals, Resolutions and Breaks
Since 2014, I've been reading and rereading Andrew Simonet's glorious book Making Your Life As An Artist. It's all about how artists can use the skills they already have in their creative work to make their productive lives more balanced and sustainable. I'm reposting this link to his book HERE - you can buy it or download it for FREE. Do it now.
The section on planning got me to start creating yearly goals, instead of New Year's Resolutions. After listing lots of potential goals that are personal, creative and professionally aimed, the idea is to choose three of any category to push toward over the long term, step by step, instead of hoping for good things to happen. SImple, but groundbreaking for me.
Here are the ones I landed on for now. Looking at my big list of all-so-tempting goals, I might change my mind, but this feels like a good starting point:
After feeling all cozy about making big goals instead of resolutions, the oh-so-inspiring Britt Udesen, Executive Director at The Loft Literary Center, posted this important PSA about taking lunch breaks that got my attention.
Especially because I don't work for one solitary company and I'm not in one office building all day, I can give myself all kinds of excuses on why I don't need to get out of my workspace for for lunch, or even to walk around the block for an hour. Whatever I tell myself, I do need this. When I take a moment away, I notice the difference. I become human again.
So, along with these goals in process for 2016, I'll take on that resolution, too. Start taking lunch breaks, whatever that means for me that day. I know my work and general state of being will improve for it.
All the time this year I'll be looking at how to make things easier and more joyful each moment as I do my work, live my life and spend time with loved ones. Because if I'm not embracing this world I'm building for myself, why do this? Why live outside the norm as an artist and writer to suffer in a self-punishing existence? No thanks. No longer worth it.
Dear Young Writers
The other day I found this rough writing from a March 2014 notebook, when I was drafting the intro to The Cabin's Writers in the Schools Cambia Anthology for that year. I love my WITS writers, and because they are so important to me, sometimes get a bit nervous preparing for a new 12 week session with them.
As I started a new playwriting residency at Trail Wind Elementary this week, these thank yous were a needed reminder. Yes for me as a teaching writer - and even more for me as a writer, a person, a being on earth.
Dear Young Writers,
Thank you for showing me the way to the moon.
How many meters it may be. How many footsteps. Banana peels.
Thank you for finding the smell of the color red
And the difference between watermelon and firetruck.
Or red like a journey through Berlin.
You put hearts and fingernails on lines of paper.
Even when you knew before we met, before that first day I walked in your classroom of 25,
You knew how much you hated writing.
You knew it was the last thing you could consider fun.
It wasn't something you felt like doing.
But you picked up your pencil.
One word at a time, one sentence, one page, you put down your story.
Your fantasy world. Your forgotten memory.
You brought it to me with both hands, shrugging and grinning and whispering.
You shared it like it was the best story ever written, because I asked you to share it that way.
That takes courage.
It takes kind generosity to offer yourself up - and not only on the page.
Because I ask you to get up and dance writing. And find the music in writing.
And discover your classroom all over again, as though you haven't already been there all year,
Avoiding the walls.
When I watch you discover this space you already know,
Something locked within me breaks open, and I remember
The cherished gratitude that exists in the room.
Because of that trust you exhibit.
So. Thank you.
If you learned a tenth of what I did visiting your classroom, watching you learn,
Then I know my hope for this world and this new generation of creative people
Is well placed.
It is an honor to work with each and every one of you.
Thank you for your work.
These students teach me a ton every year, every day I work with them. They remind me of the joy of writing, the fun silliness of creating, and also of the hardship and frustrating pain of it. They teach me all those traits can exist together in one thing and that's okay. Most of all, they show me how to be a beginner again and again and again - something I hope to never forget.
I'm sure grateful to you, my young friends in art.
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Process notes on a work in progress (me). This mostly contains raw rough content pulled out of practice notebooks. Occasional posts also invite you into the way I work, with intermittent notes on the hows and whys on the whats I make. Less often you may also find prompts and processes I've brought to workshops, as well as surveys that help me gather material for projects. Similar earlier posts from years ago can be found on: