Prioritizing My Artistic Journey

This week, I seriously ramped up the time I spend doing Trashmagination projects. I reached a point where I just could not say no to these ideas anymore.

I have heard that when you have a calling, the calls get louder every day. I am starting to believe that is true.

I realized that I kept putting Trashmagination last. It seemed like the responsible choice as I was building my consulting business, Press the Go Button. But what I realized was that even when Press the Go Button was going great, I was still not prioritizing Trashmagination. There was never going to be a point where that would change, unless I chose to change.

How Podcasts Have Been Shaping My New Brain

The biggest fuel source for this mindset shift has been podcasts. The podcasts that had the biggest impact were:

Profit, Power, Pursuit by Tara Gentile

I had never listened to podcasts, which might be a bit surprising because I was a radio journalist when I started my career. However I had turned away from NPR because I found too much news was too depressing.

Luckily, I was a fan of Tara Gentile from her Creative Live classes. I watched her four-week course Build a Stand-Out Business just as I was starting Press the Go Button, and it was exactly the pep talk I needed as I transitioned from full-time employee life to owning my own business. She had a contest where you could win something if you signed up for her podcast so I found that icon on my smart phone which I had never explored before and signed up. I quickly learned that I loved listening to podcasts. I loved listening at the gym. I loved listening as I walked around my neighborhood for my brain breaks. I loved listening while driving to clients. It was like I had just found a whole layer of information that I could consume, often at 1.5 speed, during all these pockets of time which had been a little bit boring. Tara recommended her favorite podcasts and I was off like a shot, sampling many different podcasts.

Tara’s podcast is a series of interviews with entrepreneurs. My favorite question that she asks every podcast is “how do you balance your roles as artisan / craftsperson with your role as executive?” which is exactly the question which has felt like my deepest puzzle, and the subject of this blog, really. Everyone answers it quite differently. Recently, she was interviewing Melanie Duncan and she asked how she structures her day. Melanie talked about how she does her creative work first and her “reactive” work later in the day.

Could I do that too?

While She Naps by Abby Glassenberg

Tara interviewed Abby on her podcast and I wanted to hear more from Abby. Luckily, she had this huge collection of interviews with mostly fiber artists. Abby designs patterns for stuffed toys and she co-founded an trade association called the Craft Industry Alliance.

Abby was talking to my people. I am a fiber artist at my core. I learned so much about all the layers within this world through her interviews. I learned about Etsy versus other e-commerce options, laws about making toys, how people manage their time, selling patterns versus made goods, trade shows and many other very helpful questions that I had not even encountered yet, but would likely come up if I ever pursued making Trashmagination a business.

I was most drawn to the artists who like me, love recycled fibers. I was introduced to Blair Stocker at Wise Craft, Rebecca Ringquist, Luke Haynes, Alabama Chanin and Sherri Lynn Wood. I was also drawn to the artists who told incredible stories about how they found their path. For some it was a long path, such as Lisa Congdon and Mimi Kirchner. For some, it seemed like there was only ever one path, such as Pheobe Wahl, Sara K. Benning and Alisa Burke.

That’s when I started having Trashmagination artist crushes, which I share on my Facebook page. These are people who are incorporating creative reuse in a starkly original way that is EXACTLY what I feel at my core as well.

During the weeks when I was binge-listening to While She Naps, my friend Chris said, “Why don’t you do Instagram? It seems like something you would be doing” and I realized he was right. I decided to make my Trashmagination Instagram feed 100% artists, so when I need a dose of reminder about what I am, I open Instagram. And I have enjoyed putting up just a photo here and there, rather than a total blog every time I discover something about creative reuse.

Happier by Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft

As I was running out of While She Naps podcasts, I found Happier. I totally loved Gretchen’s books on happiness science and experimentation, and she had been talking about her podcast for months in her e-newsletter. But WOW I had no idea how much I would love Happier. It was a different format – not interviews per se – but a series of conversations between Gretchen and her sister Elizabeth about the key points in her books, as well as all the new ideas Gretchen was testing.

This was the podcast that made me want to have a Trashmagination podcast. I don’t want to interview people, which is perhaps surprising because I teach my clients about storytelling and I have interviewed hundreds (thousands?) of people through the years. I was a journalist, then I wrote blogs,  I lead a storytelling initiative where I gathered more than 150 video interviews, I interviewed all the quilters in my guild and now I interview people for product development and ghost blogs. But that’s probably *exactly* why I wouldn’t want to interview people if I had a podcast. I realized all this information from other people is now embedded in me, and I am reaching the end of my interest in being a conduit of other people’s voices. I am realizing – gosh I have an awful lot to say, finally.

There are so many layers of my love for the Happier podcast, but here’s some ways it has impacted my life.

It reminded me of the power of stories to illustrate lessons – In Gretchen’s books, she shares stories about how she tested theories of happiness through her own life. There are so many things I try to teach my clients, and things I would like to teach people about creative reuse. But I have come to realize that if I just tell them directly what is the information, it is super boring and they don’t remember it. It is just wonderful how Gretchen and Elizabeth answer listener questions or tackle their own challenges trying to apply the tenets in the books. It must feel so repetitive to them to keep explaining strategies of monitoring or scheduling or accountability. But I swear that every story they tell where they apply these strategies, I get some new nuance or it becomes more clear to me. I can see that a podcast where I am just trying to get across maybe 10 basic things could go on forever because people need to hear things over and over in different ways, with different illustrating stories, like a diamond that has almost endless sides.

It made me reorganize my family’s evenings – Gretchen calls herself a “sleep zealot” and talks about how you will not likely set or keep habits if you don’t have foundational items in place which are enough sleep, healthy food, hydration, exercise and lack of clutter. When school started in September, I realized that I was becoming irrationally angry all the time, especially after supper. I was exhausted. My Fitbit told me I was getting often 6 hours of sleep per night. I suddenly felt that if I did not get more sleep, I would not be able to do anything of value in my life. Something had to change in a big way.

At first I listed all the things my family was doing that was making me feel angry – and it was a very long list. Almost everything related to the fact that they would come home from work and school and sort of wander through their evenings, dropping clothing, wet towels and crumbs in their wake. Suddenly at bed time, they realized they had homework and needed a shower. And though my husband was less messy and always helped with dinner, once we ate he would enter some kind of media bubble chamber where it was difficult to engage with him unless I really put my foot down. We were like a family of zombies. I played along because I like to do my own thing as well, but something had to give.

I listed all the things that really should happen in an evening plus all the things I know people want to do. It had more than 30 items. This is for a period of time from 3-10pm. If we were going to tackle a good amount of those items, we needed a plan.

Before engaging my family, I had the opportunity to work through my thoughts on this during a coaching session with my friend Leanne Cusumano Roque. She helped me get my heart and brain in just the right place to have this conversation with my family.

I called a family meeting and my family was totally not interested. My daughter had her head on her arms laying on the kitchen table. My son kept trying to sneak out of the kitchen. My husband had his neutral / skeptical face on. It was a frustrating start. I noted all the behaviors and results I had seen on each person in our family because we did not have enough sleep and were not using our evenings well. I found specific things that I knew each of them cared about. Then I asked what does it take to feel healthy? And they listed Gretchen’s foundational items – Nora even talked about “feeling organized” ie. the clutter item. Then we talked about what it would take to feel healthy as a family. I asked them to list all the things we like to do in the evenings and they came up with the same 30+ items I had imagined.

So we created an evening schedule. Every hour, it’s time to think about something. It varies each night due to different lessons, quantity of homework etc. But it’s a schedule. In general it looks something like this:

Between 3-5pm

  • Kids come home from school and spend an hour relaxing.
  • We do exercise in some way – often walking around the block.
  • We start homework.
  • One day per week, Nora has singing lessons and Russell has viola lessons.

Between 5-7pm

  • We make and eat dinner and clean up.
  • We finish homework.

Between 7-9pm

  • Once a week, Nora has hockey, Mom has taiko and Dad / Russell have Cub Scouts.
  • 8pm is the last call for any food – the kitchen is closed and clean at 8:30pm.
  • We practice our musical instruments.
  • Russell showers.

Between 9-10pm

  • Mom & Russell read books together, then Russell gets ready for bed.
  • Nora showers and gets ready for bed.

So that’s the schedule and if things are done early, people can do whatever they want. (If you want more info on this for your family, let me know and I can email you the actual schedule which is a chart. This is posted around the house in our bedrooms, bathrooms and the kitchen to help remind us of our goals.)

We’ve been doing this for three weeks and it has made the most amazing difference. We are going to bed at 10pm – all of us – and I’m getting 7.5 hours of sleep almost every night. My brain works better. I feel peaceful in the evenings instead of cranky. My family still makes a mess, but it doesn’t feel like the sky is falling. I have enough brain power to remind them about cleaning up without losing it. And actually there are so many wonderful moments – interactions, conversations, collaborations.

This is all because Gretchen and Elizabeth said you must have your foundational items in place first, then move on to the other strategies.

I also decided to try the strategies of monitoring and scheduling to get myself to do more Trashmagination. I made this little chart and put it on the fridge:

Strategy of Monitoring - Making Time to Do Art

Strategy of Monitoring – Making Time to Do Art

The first week, I was struggling to do my goal of 3 hours of Trashmagination time. You can see I did most of it all in one evening, drawing with Nora and my friend Linda. I even counted the time that I spend mending my bed quilt, even though that is not “art” but it was standing in the way mentally because it felt weird to make fiber art when my bed quilt needed mending.

But by the second week, it was getting easier and easier. I had used the Strategy of Scheduling and booked the time from 7-8am to do Trashmagination. At first, that was not helping. I felt compelled to answer emails during that time, as I used to do. But then one day I just said – enough of that. These people can wait until 9am after I walk Russell to school. And you know what? They can. And once my Trashmagination efforts have that early morning boost, they tend to continue all day. Whatever project I kick off in the morning, I find myself nibbling away at it between other tasks, whenever I need to ponder options. Now it is Wednesday and I have already done probably 8 hours of art this week.

So that’s a very long explanation of why I love the Happier Podcast, but suffice to say – those strategies work, but it is not easy, because I had to really think about what I was assuming about my life and shake up even the most basic stuff.

 

Your Creative Push by Youngman Brown

The podcast which I am listening to right now, digging through all the past episodes, is Your Creative Push. Youngman Brown interviews artists about how they got motivated and how they stay motivated. His questions each time are something like:

  • What’s your earliest creative memory?
  • What stands in your way of doing your art?
  • What has been a high point in your art journey?
  • What advice would you give someone who might be stuck on their art journey (the final push)?

He also does occasional solo episodes, which are his opportunity to process key themes that he has heard across multiple interviews and synthesize them into something close to pep talks.

At first, I was not sure I liked this podcast. This was a return to the interview format, which I find sometimes gets a little meandering. I love the density of the Happier podcast, where every minute is likely going to give you an epiphany. It’s the only podcast I listen to at normal speed. All the other interview style podcasts I can process at 1.5 speed because it’s just the nature of interviews, adults usually take a long time to say anything.

But this podcast has grown on me and is starting to kick my butt. In every podcast, each artist says at least one new thing I have not considered. Now it sometimes feels like I’m wading through their lives to get to that one epiphany. But it’s worth it because that epiphany might not actually form if I didn’t understand enough of their back story.

It’s kicking my butt because it is relentless. It comes every week day. It doesn’t give me five minutes to think “maybe I’m not an artist” or “maybe this is not my calling.” If I hear one more artist talk about the feeling of being in flow – it makes me just totally dissatisfied with a life NOT in flow. Why the heck would I put up with that?

Here are some tidbits from artists which I have been holding close to my heart:

  • Steve Ferrara talked about how sometimes his students struggle to make decisions between options A or B. He says, “If you had two seconds, which one would you choose?” and whatever they choose, they do. If someone asked me would you choose to make creative reuse art or not in two seconds, I would say yes.
  • John P. Weiss is a full-time police chief who still makes times for art. He talked about how he stripped away the non-essentials in his life to ensure that happened.
  • J.A.W. Cooper talked about her “never-ending grid” where she folded a paper into 6 blocks and kept drawing the same thing over and over, improving each time. What is my never-ending grid?

So I’m grateful for this podcast because I think it was the cherry on my sundae that is tipping me over the edge in shifting my life. It might not have worked if it was the first podcast, but it’s working now.

 

The Lively Show by Jess Lively

This podcast got me to start journaling again. Jess writes her intuition whenever she is unsure about something. Sometimes she does this multiple times per day. It sounds odd but it really works. Other concepts that I have learned about from Jess:

  • The battle between intuition and ego – how it feels, how to get back to what the intuition says
  • How life is like a whitewater rafting trip – It’s about the trip down the river, not taking a bus to the take-out point – the goal of life is to gather data and flow down the river, not to end the trip.
  • Paying attention – Growth means learning to let go of resistance to what is showing up in my life. I can ask the question, “In the present moment, what opportunity is the universe flowing to me?”
  • Life is like moose tracks ice cream – Every day / season is a different mixture and you don’t judge the whole flavor of ice cream based on one spoonful. I might like the mouthful that has more nuts, but if every mouthful tasted the same, it would not be interesting.
  • Practice and all is coming – Live each day as if it were what you wanted and then after a while, that is what your day will be like.
  • Sparkes on the water – I don’t have to do anything to be shiny. I just need to be there and the light will be reflected off of me.
  • Authenticity is when you don’t need the affirmation of anyone else to feel food about what you have to say or do (from an interview with Kate Arends).

So that sounds like a bunch of random ideas, but they make more sense and have more impact within the podcast because Jess discovers them on her journey and her stories illustrate how those ideas arise. Just like with the Happier podcast, she is constantly re-learning her own lessons, which is a great thing, because that’s my life too.

 

How Two Books Also Helped Shift My Brain

In addition to drowning myself in podcasts, two books have really stood out for me recently.

The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks – This book was mentioned perhaps six times in podcasts before I got it from the library and it is really important. I learned three key things from it:

  • When good things happen to us, we often sabotage ourselves if we think we have hit our limit of good things that can happen to us. This is called our Upper Limit.
  • In life, we can live in different zones – Zone of Competence, Zone of Excellence and Zone of Genius. We often get stuck in Zone of Excellence because it is often a place where we get a good salary and we are doing what society wants. But there is a higher Zone, and it is our calling. Life will keep sending us signals that we need to enter our Zone of Genius, and if we ignore it, it will manifest as poor health and other sad things.
  • We are the originators of time. We decide exactly how to use our time. It is not worthwhile to say we are too busy because we have control over those decisions.

Those three ideas combined are a BIG reason why I’m shifting my schedule to do more Trashmagination.

There is one story in particular about a woman who wanted to write books. Every day she would get her kids ready in the morning then clean her house and then maybe have enough time left to write before the kids came home from school. The author said, “Okay based on your schedule, you prioritize your kids, then your house, then your writing.” And the woman said, “Oh no! I prioritize my writing over my housework!” But the author said, “That is not evident based on how you spend your time.” It was challenging for the woman to let go of her regular schedule, but she did, and even got her husband to help with the kids. And before long, writing was a bigger part of her life and she had published her next book.

So it shows how daily habits that seem noble and responsible can in fact over time squash creativity. It is not a given that “good” behaviors are the “right” behaviors if you want to achieve a specific goal.

Hope, Make, Heal by Maya Pagán Donenfeld – Maya had been teaching about creative reuse projects and had already published a book called Reinvention when her husband of many years left her. I took this book out of the library for the projects, but when I read her story, that’s when something became clear to me. I was afraid to make art because I was afraid of abandonment. If I did not contribute “enough” financially or if I was dependent on my husband financially, and something happened to him, then I was not doing my duty as a wife and mom. But Maya actually made art to recover from that situation. She made art despite that situation. Why would I turn away from the tool that would likely help me heal in that worst case scenario?

As I kept reading, another script came into my head. It is not fair that I get to make art and my husband does not. If he has to do a 9-5 job, so should I. But that is not true either. In fact, if I immerse myself in my art / heart, I may create something that then means he could make art too. But if I do not, I am certain neither of us will make art. And wouldn’t that be an amazing day, the day that Bob and I could be artists together? And when I do Trashmagination projects and he helps, which is often, that is a glimpse of that world. It does not have to be so far in the future.

Nora came home from school and said her English teacher said being an artist is not a good career choice because you cannot make a living from art. Oh.my.goodness that made me angry. How dare that teacher feed scripts into my daughter’s head that could damage her heart! Nora and I have talked about it at least 10 times since. But what would prove it more clearly to her than if I did it? What doors would I open for my incredibly artistic daughter if I made my world in art? Maybe she would be making art with me too, or at least, she would not shut doors to art too often, as I have. Maybe she would find flow earlier in life.

I also appreciated Maya’s book because even though I have not suffered a loss as she describes, I feel grief at times. I feel frustration when clients don’t think big, or when they pull themselves down with petty squabbles and back-stabbing. I feel pent up with a thousand Trashmagination projects not made yet. So her messages about healing are good in the company of these many other messages. Be kind – to myself, to others struggling. Let’s make the nest as warm and cozy as possible while the egg matures. There is no need to be angry that it has not hatched yet.

I started my own business for many reasons, but one was to make time for art. That has not happened. It will now.

Breakthrough

So this all crystallized yesterday when I started making yarn from bread bags.

Bread Bag Yarn

I have been wanting to make bread bag yarn for months, maybe years. Really you say? Yes, I have so many odd dreams like this – I bet I could talk to you for 10 hours and not say all the dreams. It is ridiculous how many lists I have written and inside my head of these dreams.

So that was enough. I just started making it. And it is AWESOME. Come on – did you ever imagine that bread bags would make such beautiful braided yarn? I will weave it into rugs on my floor loom and I have never seen anything like it.

Standing in my kitchen braiding yarn while making muffins, that is flow. Yep. That’s what I want every day all day.

I hope sharing this journey helps you find the resources you need to find and stay on your path.

 

 

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