Ask WHY to Create Opportunities for Compassion

Originally posted on Artist Soapbox on 28 May 2018

Greetings, Soapboxers!

Please raise your hand if someone has ever told you, “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

Y’all. So many times. Over and over throughout my life. This phrase confounded me and angered me. I didn’t understand it. I passed it off as a cliché. An empty platitude from someone who jusssst didn’t getttt meeeee.

Last night marked the just-over-halfway point of the inaugural ASBX Creative Accountability Group, an endeavor that Tamara and I are facilitating for artists who want to move their creative work forward. This experience has been so inspiring, so humbling and, honestly, last night got real.

In that session, something new clicked for me around the way I approach my creativity and my ‘til-now unconscious choice to brandish the whip rather than the olive branch when I felt stuck or unproductive.

I asked the group to examine the roadblocks they experience through an exercise called “The 5 Whys.” This technique was originally formalized by Toyota, as a way to trace a problem through layers of abstraction to its real root cause. Typically, the root cause points to a process that is not working well. Hmmm, process you say? I wonder if artists can relate to that…

Here’s an example:

What is the pat answer you give for why you haven’t accomplished your creative goal? All together now: “I don’t have enough time.” Let’s inspect that a bit through 5 Whys, shall we? (Monocles optional).

“I don’t have enough time.”

Why?

“Because I am scheduled within an inch of my life.”

Why?

“Because people keep asking me to do things and I keep saying yes.”

Why?

“Because I have a really hard time saying no.”

Why?

“Because I’m afraid if I say no they’ll never ask me to do anything ever again.”

Why?

“Because I am insecure in my relationships.”

DUDE I KNOW RIGHT? It was so much easier when I thought I was simply managing a ridiculous calendar. Now I have to consider how I approach my relationships?  Well, shit. Let’s all crack open our chests and shine a flashlight in, shall we?

In terms of the Creative Accountability Group, this exercise has so much to offer us in terms of having compassion for ourselves and examining what is at the root of our creative resistance. Here’s another example from the group:

“I am not prioritizing writing.”

Why?

“Because I am not excited about it.”

Why?

“Because I’m afraid people will think it’s bad.”

Why?

“Because I got a bad review last time and it really hurt.”

Why (is this a problem)?

“Because now I feel like I can’t trust my own voice.”

In this example, I can see the pain at the center of the resistance. Putting our work into the world for public consumption is a vulnerable and brave act. It all but guarantees that some people will have criticisms and critiques. If that knocks the wind out of your sails for a bit, well, ok — you’re human. It’s understandable that you could feel stuck between the ego’s desire for a product and your heart’s need for the process of healing. Uncovering the resistance to the work via the 5 Whys allows us to name it, claim it, and deal with it….with compassion.

That’s when things shifted for me around the phrase “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Now I see the value in extending compassion inward and acknowledging the hurt or pain that has us in its grip. What we need in those moments is comfort and encouragement, not chastisement. If we take the time to care for ourselves, we’ll feel the pull of creativity before too long. It’s always there. It wants to flow through us. We can help it by making space for our feelings and clearing out debris where we can.

Is this hitting home for you? Considering joining Tamara and me for our next Creative Accountability Group, beginning July 31st. This 5-week session is open to everyone! If you’ve got a project you’d like to move forward, but could use some help and an encouraging support network, drop us a line! We’d love to see you there.

Many thanks to our gracious hosts, the NC Center for Resiliency.

‘Til next time,

MT

Artist Soapbox: Take Your Work Seriously

Originally published on Artist Soapbox on 30 April 2018

Greetings, Soapboxers!

Next week, Tamara and I are launching our first Creative Accountability Group. I can’t wait!

I’m already inspired by the statement these artists have made by signing up for this group: they have put Creative Resistance on notice.

In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield posits that every artist is engaged in a war against Resistance. In his definition, Resistance is any act that prefers immediate gratification over long-term growth, health or integrity. Resistance is fueled by fear and Resistance never sleeps. The battle must be fought anew every day.

Does this sound familiar? Imposter syndromeprocrastinationperfectionismcomparison — these are all forms of Resistance. The good news is: we are not powerless in this fight. Recently we’ve talked about cleaning up and bringing in beauty as resources. Today I’ll offer one more, inspired by Mr. Pressfield: Take Your Work Seriously.

Do you want to write a book? Make a web series? Learn an instrument? You do? Cool! Quick question: HOW SERIOUS ARE YOU?

Serious enough to delete some time-sucks from your phone?

Serious enough to decline a night out with friends to do your work?

Serious enough to reach out to friends/mentors for help and feedback?

Serious enough to spend time actually *doing* the work?

In this context, taking your work seriously does not mean putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to produce something “Serious.” It means you recognize the intrinsic value of your artistic endeavor and prioritize it without apology.

One of the biggest lies Resistance wants us to believe is that we don’t have enough time. Do you have 5 minutes? Sit down and do your creative work for those 5 minutes and you have overcome Resistance. Do it again and again and your work is going to add up to something. I’m a big believer in this axiom: “Show up for the work and the work will show up for you.”

This is why I’m so excited to begin our Creative Accountability Group. This is a group of people who have said, to some degree, I am serious. I am serious enough to get some help. I am serious enough to show up and put my goals out there. I am serious enough to risk feeling less-than in front of other people. I am serious and I take my creativity seriously.

Next month I’ll be sending a dispatch from the front lines. In the meantime, we’d love to hear about the ways you battle Resistance. What works for you? Leave us a comment or email us at artistsoapbox@gmail.com .

‘Til next time,

MT

The Importance of a Physical Practice

Originally posted on Artist Soapbox on 26 March 2018.

Greetings, Soapboxers!

I have really been enjoying talking to you about clearing space and bringing in nourishment to our lives. I like to think of it as the things we *get* to do for ourselves, rather than the things we *have* to do.

Today, let’s dive into another important resource for us creative types (psst: that’s all of us). In podcast episode 016, actor, singer, and director Dana Marks answered this question: “What’s something every artist should learn or practice regularly?” Her answer? “A physical practice.” Amen, Dana. I’m right there with you. Let’s get out of our heads and into our bodies.

A physical practice can take so many forms. We all enjoy different things, so find something that speaks to you, something you’ll enjoy that is realistic for you to keep up with. Personally, I fell bass-ackwards into a love of running about four years ago and it changed my life. That along with swimming and daily walks with my dogs are the cornerstones of my physical practice.

A physical practice can also encompass more than what we traditionally think of as “exercise.” About two years ago, I started practicing what I call “The Self-Care Power Half-Hour.” This routine consists of:

Meditation: 20 minutes

Yoga: 5 minutes

Breathing: 5 minutes

This practice has absolutely made a difference for me — me, the person whose picture appears next to “Monkey Mind” in the dictionary. If I can do it, so can you. The yoga series and the breathing technique I use are both said to “build internal fire” and, man, that’s what I’m looking for. After 10 minutes, I am ready to kick ass. But, like, in a zen way.

“But Mara,” you’re saying. “I hate running and 30 minutes of anything is more than I can do right now.” I hear you! Any amount of time — seriously, one minute — is a great place to start. Every morning while my bread toasts I use that 3 minutes to do some push-ups. Let me tell you why I do that specific exercise.

“Boundaries” is a new concept for me. Most of my life until very recently has been centered on other people’s needs, often to the detriment of my physical and emotional health. My therapist specifically recommended I do push-ups to have the physical, felt sensation of pushing back against something. My body needs to absorb this physicality so that it can advise my people-pleasing brain when it needs to push back.

Similarly, my other physical practices have helped me remember my body’s inherent wisdom. I spent many years disconnected from it and reconnecting has been a process. Running has helped me gain perspective on the Making Pots philosophy — it’s about practice and the process,  not the outcome. Not every run is going to be my fastest, just like not every piece of art I create is going to be a masterpiece. But I keep going and I keep learning and that’s what matters.

Soapboxers, we want to hear from you! What physical practices keep you buoyed despite creative or emotional or literal storms? Leave a comment or drop us a line at artistsoapbox@gmail.com and tell us how it’s going.

‘Til next time,

MT

Nourish Your Creative Self

Originally posted on Artist Soapbox on 26 February 2018

Howdy, Soapboxers!

When we last chatted, I talked about cleaning and tidying as being a first step toward making space for your creativity. I even challenged you to make a change in your space. How did that go?

If we think of our spaces as being a reflection of ourselves, it’s only to our benefit to stay on the tidy train as often as we can. We are going to do big work in these spaces. Work that requires a lot from us, demands that we push past our fears, wrestle with our insecurities and ultimately produce something that previously never existed. I’m reaching for the vacuum just thinking about it!

However, to thrive, our creative selves need other things too. We need inspiration. We need to be cared for. Sometimes we need beauty for the sake of beauty. Pleasure for the sake of pleasure. That’s why I started having fresh flowers in my home at all times. They make me smile on a daily basis. And if chores are a life-long given, why not add some pleasure to the experience if we can? I’ll say it: I go all-out on the $3.99 good-smelling dish soap. You wanna come at me? You’re gonna have to fight your way through this glorious honeysuckle halo that surrounds me. Sorry not sorry.

“But Mara,” I hear you saying, “when did you become a lifestyle blogger? I thought this was a series about creativity.” I’m getting there, I promise. The flowers, the dish soap — these small gestures of self-care nourish me. And when I feel nourished, I am in a better space to create, to allow myself to take risks and to be less judgmental toward myself. It’s important to me to be in that better space as often as possible, and thus I am always seeking out little ways to add more nourishment to my home and my life.

This week, bring something beautiful into your space to give your creative selves a lift.Drop us a line at artistsoapbox@gmail.com. I want to hear all about it!

Special Note: Our first ASBX Creative Accountability Group is nearly full, and the deadline is approaching. If you are considering joining us, register now!

‘Til next time,

MT

Cleaning House

Originally published on Artist Soapbox on 1/29/2018.

Greetings, fellow Soapboxers!

I closed my last blog post of 2017 by promising to shift from creativity obstructions to creativity resources. Ready? Let’s clean house.

I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to create when my space is busy and messy and uninspiring. I’ll admit it: I read “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. I did. And you know what? It ushered in some big changes in my life. So, whatever you feel about the book, I think there can be a lot of value for us in confronting the things in our space that really and truly need to go to make room for other things* that reflect beauty and joy and make us feel good.  (*sometimes empty space qualifies as an “other thing”)

I spent last Saturday night cleaning out the cabinet below my kitchen sink. Who said blogging isn’t glamorous?! While the sad under-the-sink situation never rose to “To-Do List” level importance, I gotta say — it bummed me out every single time I reached for the dish soap. Like a paper cut on my domestic soul. Last Saturday night, though, I’d had enough. I took out all the products, threw away what I didn’t need, wiped it all down, and reorganized that mother. This thing that had bummed me out for years took less than 15 minutes to rectify. Now, my clean kitchen cabinet gives me a little boost rather than dragging me down.

This is where I, much like young Ralph Macchio, realize that I haven’t been toiling pointlessly for a taskmaster who isn’t going to come through with the karate lessons. I’ve actually been learning karate THIS WHOLE TIME.  Wax on, wax off, Soapboxers. Tidying makes me feel good. Clearing space makes me feel good. It’s easier to make art — perhaps especially, difficult art — when I’m feeling good.

Take a look around your space, Soapboxers. Do you like what you see? Does it inspire you? Does it give your brain a chance to roam free or are you looking at piles of junk mail and unfolded laundry and dirty dishes and that spot on the window sill where the paint is chipped and you just. can’t. let. it. go?

This week, find a small change you can make in your space and then challenge yourself to do it. Fix that squeaky hinge. Get rid of that lamp you’ve always hated. Thin out your t-shirt drawer (MT’s note: Physician, heal thyself). Whatever it might be for you. We’re all in this together. Drop us a line at artistsoapbox@gmail.com and let us know what you did and how it made you feel.

‘Til next time!

MT

Artist Soapbox: Farewell, Creativity Obstructions. Hello, Creativity Resources!

Originally published on Artist Soapbox on 12/29/2017.

**Last post of 2017!**

Happy New Year, Soapboxers!

How does that salutation sit with you? How does it feel to be looking ahead to a fresh calendar? Hopeful? Scary? Exciting? Full of dread? Are you taking stock of 2017 or lighting a match and throwing it over your shoulder as you Auld Lang Syne your way into 2018?

I’ll be honest, this month I didn’t show up for my creativity as much as I would have liked. Can I get a show of hands from all the folks who have been running around ragged this month? Holiday parties, traveling, work and/or family obligations… December is NON STOP. While I treasure time spent with friends and loved ones, I can feel my creativity squeaking out a quiet “Remember me?” in the background.

I hear you, creativity, and I haven’t forgotten you. You are important and you will not be ignored.

Is your creativity talking to you? What is it saying? What does it most need from you in 2018?

So far in this blog series, Tamara and I have discussed different obstructions that present themselves when you’re on your creative path.

  1. Imposter Syndrome: Who do I think I am? Why even try?
  2. Perfectionism: I’m so afraid that my creation will not be perfect that I never actually do it.
  3. Comparison: I’ll never be as good as that person. I should probably quit.
  4. Distraction: I’ve convinced myself that all these other things have priority over my creativity.

This framework has helped me when I’m struggling creatively. I can remember that these feelings are part of the process. They are normal but that doesn’t mean they’re true or that I need to indulge them.

Right now I am definitely guilty of #4. But you know what? I’ve made progress on the others. They don’t have the hold on me that they did even one year ago. Change is possible, friends! But here’s the fine print: it took work. It took facing down fears and doing it anyway. It took getting out of my own way. It took hours at the keyboard doing the actual work of writing a script. It took hours of self-resourcing to help me navigate re-writes and self-doubt and the excitement and stress of seeing the work come to life.

In 2018, I would like to share with you and learn from you the things we do for ourselves that resource us. That give us confidence. That align us with our hopes and dreams for ourselves. That give us a boost, whether that’s emotionally, physically or creatively. Because I gotta tell you — creativity can be scary. It can be vulnerable. Performing in front of people, sharing your words with others, displaying your paintings or drawings — these are courageous acts. I truly believe that we must unapologetically care for ourselves to be able to share these parts of ourselves with others and maintain our emotional, physical and creative health. Let’s talk about how to make this happen for ourselves and our creative community.

What do you think, Soapboxers? We’re all in this together. Thank you for supporting the Artist Soapbox endeavors this year. It has been a pleasure to share with you and especially to hear from you! Please leave a comment or write us at artistsoapbox@gmail.com .

‘Til next time!
-MT

Artist Soapbox: Reclaiming MY Time

Originally published on Artist Soapbox on 12/11/2017.

I am a goal-oriented person. I do really well with a plan. If all the steps are laid out for me — i.e. marathon training — I will show up every day and do the work. When I don’t have a plan, though, it’s like a blender with the lid off. What am I doing? What’s that over there? Hey that sounds fun! Squirrel! Instagram! Where did this month go?

This fall I was in need of a serious recalibration. My major goals had been accomplished and I was staring into the void. Or, more accurately, I was filling the void with social media and lots of other distractions.

I needed help and it arrived in the form of the Passion Planner. [This is in no way a paid endorsement, though if the #pashfam wants to send an undated planner my way, I would make good use of it]. It emphasized the importance of prioritizing your tasks. We all juggle a zillion balls at any given time but not everything has equal weight. What are the 2 or 3 things that really move you along your path? What if you focused on those and let the time/energy leeches fall to the wayside?

Once I mapped out some goals and the steps they required, it became eminently clear that I needed to spend a whole lot more time reading and writing and a whole lot less time trying to capture the perfect Boomerang video of my dogs. If I was going to make progress, I had to confront the empty time calories in my day and make a conscious change in behavior. I felt overwhelmed by the prospect, but when the student is ready the teacher will appear. Enter Representative Maxine Waters.

To put it bluntly: Rep. Waters does not have time for your bullshit. She has served in Congress for nearly 25 years. She has seen more than enough to know that the current state of political affairs can be upgraded in size from Dumpster Fire to Garbage Barge or Tectonic Plate. This summer, while questioning the Secretary of the Treasury, Rep. Waters grew so frustrated with his evasions that she refused to give her time to his bluster. The video footage of the session went viral and “Reclaiming My Time” arrived in the national consciousness.

In the latest blog posts for ASBX, Tamara and I shared thoughts about comparison and the ways it can help or hinder you creatively. Rep. Waters provided me a much-needed dose of helpful, high-frequency comparison to apply to my everyday life.

Am I scrolling glassy-eyed through Facebook? RECLAIMING MY TIME.

I obsessively checking my phone for any form of a distraction? RECLAIMING MY TIME.

Am I spending too much time thinking about things out of my control? RECLAIMING MY TIME.

I printed out a picture of Rep. Waters from the RECLAIMING MY TIME congressional session and put it on the front of my planner where it stares me down throughout the day. It’s surprising — or maybe it’s not — how often I need this reminder to keep me on task. What’s more, I know Rep. Waters won’t accept my excuses and, frankly, I do not want to let her down.

Once I had Rep. Waters’ watchful gaze to be accountable to, it’s amazing how quickly social media and other time/energy drains lost their appeal. Also, the planner gave me a concrete way to chart my progress (or lack thereof) and a visual representation of the days I did or didn’t show up for a particular task. This made me more motivated to do the work and keep myself moving forward, because MAN do I love checking boxes. For real.

So what about you, Soapboxers? Where and how could you RECLAIM YOUR TIME? What shifts might occur if you put your attention on the things that feed your soul rather than the things that distract you?

I know, it’s the holiday season. I’m looking at the month ahead and realizing that I have some decisions to make. Saying yes to a party or concert will sometimes mean saying no to writing, or vice versa. As easy as it would be to fill my month with social engagements, I simply must retain some time for myself, some time to keep plugging away at my creative endeavors. Even if it’s just 30 minutes a day. What about you? How are you showing up for yourself this month? If you need an extra boost, check out the RECLAIMING MY TIME gospel remix and repeat after me: Do you know the rules? When it’s my time, I can take it back.

We’re all in this together, Soapboxers. I’m interested to hear from you. Leave a comment or write us at artistsoapbox@gmail.com .

‘Til next time!
-MT

 

Artist Soapbox: Comparisons, Part I

Originally published on Artist Soapbox on 11/25/17.

In general, comparing yourself to Patti Smith is a terrible idea. I don’t recommend it. But there I was, not yet 30 years old, reading her then-newly published Just Kids and mercilessly chastising myself over my boring, disappointing life.

Patti read Rimbaud and traveled to France and lived in the Chelsea and made Horses and on and on and on all before she was 30. By comparison, I was a washed-up old hag whose punk days, such as they were, were behind her. I missed my chance. I could never possibly accomplish anything worthwhile at this advanced age. Cue the violins.

Patti wasn’t the only hero I put through this deification/self-denigration gauntlet. I used to frustrate myself endlessly by comparing artists I admired and what they achieved by such-and-such an age versus my whole-lotta-nothing existence. Lovely readers, if you find yourself doing this, PLEASE STOP IMMEDIATELY and remember what Uncle Teddy said:

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

When I read Just Kids, I was at a low-point, creatively. It had been a few years since my band broke up and theater was not yet on the horizon. I felt stuck but my limited emotional skill-set allowed that stuckness to spiral quickly into hopeless catastrophizing. Everything needed to happen RIGHT NOW and if it didn’t, well, that was further proof of my worthlessness.

Then I started a new band. And then I got cast in a play. And then I took a pretty epic motorcycle trip. And then I started working with Little Green Pig. And then I started running. And then I did a lot of not-insignificant work on myself to get at all this bullshit that was holding me back. And on and on and on.

Because it’s bullshit, friends. It’s total bullshit. The thing that tells you you don’t measure up? Bullshit. You aren’t ____ enough? Bullshit. You’re too old/fat/lazy/whatever to do the things you want to do? Bullshit. That someone else’s success is somehow evidence of your failure? Bullshit.

Comparing myself to Patti Smith is bullshit. I will never be Patti Smith. Now I can read that as a simple statement of fact rather than a denouncement of my existence. What’s more, I am not here to be Patti Smith. I’m here to be me. I don’t have Patti’s words or experiences. I have mine. They are not any more or less significant than hers. They simply ARE. I’m done comparing.

Now I can put on Horses and feel nothing but inspiration. I can even remember my Just Kids low point with a fond wink and a bit of maternalism for Young Me, the ever-harsh. I can support and lift up my fellow art-makers because there is room for all of us. This is the world we’re making.

We’re all in this together, Soapboxers. I’m interested to hear from you. Leave a comment or email us at artistsoapbox@gmail.com .

‘Til next time!

-MT