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

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