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: Make More Pots

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

It’s a rainy, shit day in Durham and I want to talk about perfectionism.

I was one of those insufferable kids for whom school came easily. Worksheets, spelling tests, you name it – my goal was get everything right and be the first kid who finished. While that allowed me to skate through 3rd grade, it didn’t do me many favors later in life when I actually had to study or learn new skills. I thought any evidence of a struggle meant that I was an idiot. Young Me was harsh AF. Perfection was the goal, and if I didn’t nail it on the first try, I instantly jumped to the conclusion that I was a complete failure. Have you ever felt that way about yourself?

If you read my first post for ASBX, you learned how “Nobody Cares” became a touchstone for me to move past fear and perfectionism during the writing process. I received another excellent piece of advice that day related to this story.

The story describes a pottery class where one half of the class was instructed to make perfect pots. The other half was instructed to make as many pots as they could. At the end of the semester the students entered their best pot into a contest. Overall, the students who made the most pots also tended to make the best pots. In essence: Want to get good at something? Do the thing. Again and again. As much as you can. Aim for the practice. The product. The making. That is the goal. Perfection MAY BE a byproduct. Maybe.

Wait: Do you mean this might take work? I can’t simply sit down and watch the magic pour forth onto the page?  There might be missteps and frustration and straight-up garbage ideas along the way? That’s the message? Why would anyone do this?

Then, the same message arrived in my tea cup. (In case you were wondering, yes I do, on occasion, take guidance from the sayings on tea bags.) I couldn’t ignore this one: “You don’t manifest epic projects without bowing deeply to your daily grind.” What the shit? Now my tea was telling me to practice? FINE. Message received.

For most of my life, nothing sounded like a bigger drag than practicing. But now I know that the more you practice, the more fun you have when you are doing the thing. The kinder you are to yourself when things don’t go as planned. The more easily you can hear feedback because you don’t have so much invested in your precious, perfect creation.

When I think about perfectionism now, all I can see is the fear behind it. Furthermore, I cannot think of a more absurd concept to apply to creativity. Someone please bring me a perfect piece of art. I’ll wait. [insert nail-polish emoji]

Perfectionism does not want me to embrace the inherent messiness involved with creating. It tries to convince me I’d be satisfied with a life where I never created anything but at least I never made a fool of myself. What’s it gonna be, Mara? Repression or self-expression?

To some degree, I will probably always battle perfectionism, but it is rapidly losing ground to the rhythm of practice. Much like that pottery class, practice is showing me that at best I might make something worthwhile, maybe even great, and at worst I am learning and getting better and getting braver. There is no downside.

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