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My mini book from Seth Apter's class

I was just getting back to blogging in the spring. And then on top of the pandemic, George Floyd was murdered right in public by a police officer, and the crumbling world caved in. I couldn’t bring myself to write about anything that wasn’t Black Lives Matter or mask wearing. Nothing else seemed important. I spent a lot of time (still do, just not exclusively) on social media sharing things to try to help, to try to spread the word about what was happening and maybe ways to make changes.

Talking, sharing, protesting, writing letters--it's important work we have to keep doing. But I was sinking in on myself more and more every day, and I didn't know what to do. And then a class popped up-- Seth Apter’s Mini Book Madness. It was so inexpensive, and the books were delightful, and it was easily accessible. I signed up. I started my book in class and spent days finishing it. I was so in love I bought supplies to make more books (which hasn’t happened yet, but I have my stuff, and it will). I felt a little more like me. I felt a little calmer, a little more focused, a little less constantly enraged.

Right now doing our art, making things, creating may seem pointless. Worse, it may feel selfish.

Right now, our art is necessary.

Stopping and later recovering from this pandemic is a long-haul thing. Continuing the fight against police violence and racial injustice and inequity is a long-haul thing. That means that we have to figure out how to do all the work on these things at the same time as we are having lives. And that means taking care of ourselves and doing the things that buoy us up and help us keep going, that help us keep hope and help us bring light to ourselves and others.

There have been articles and posts about this already. I’m not saying anything new. But I feel like my blog is something that people read in quieter times, so maybe the words will sink in a little easier. Or the ideas might sink in from repetition. In any case, I just wanted to say it out loud.

Living our lives, making our art, doing our creative work--it’s important. We have to have a full and thriving world to move back into once we fix these crises. We can’t build that world or keep it going if we burn ourselves out. 

Next time I’ll talk about some small ways to get back to your art if it’s a struggle. For now, just remember that you can do it for just 5 minutes, you can do it badly, you can just spend time sorting supplies. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Now, go make something!

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A few of the things feeding my Muse right now. Index card art, mixed media painted backgrounds, creating a little shelf garden.

In the early days of MuseCraft, I used to write a blog series called "On My Table." It was pictures, combined with a bit of writing, of projects I was working on that week, and it was really fun to do (although trying to do a new project every week got a little hectic).

I've been missing those sharing posts lately, telling about the things that are inspiring me, what's stirring my Muse. And I know when I share the things I'm making on Facebook and Instagram, people seem to really enjoy it, and we end up having really good conversations. So I decided to bring back sharing posts, but they're not going to be just things I'm making. I thought it might be fun to share all the things that perk up my Muse's interest (Muse Appeal, get it? I know--I'm too funny)--books I'm reading, songs I'm loving, food I'm eating, all of that.

This week's Muse Appeal is a list. And just so you know, I love lists! There will probably be lots of lists.

A few of the things delighting my Muse this week:

  • Daisy Yellow's Index Card a Day (ICAD)--it's almost finished for this year! I've been making collages on my cards every day using gel printed papers I made during a 30 day gel printing challenge I did last September, so I'm getting to make some art and also use things I already had.
  • Making backgrounds for mixed media pieces using techniques I learned last week in Seth Apter's class "One Layer Away." These are so much fun--I know there will be a lot more in my future. Pretty sure my art journal is going to get a lot of these backgrounds.
  • Looking up tutorials and info on plants and decorations for my new container garden I set up just outside my back door so I can see it from my perch on the sofa.
  • Continuing work on the little embroideries from #The100DayProject. When I'm finished, they're going to become a mobile for my studio! (You can see all 100 days of this on my Instagram--the link is over there on the right.)

Those are the big things capturing my attention right now. (That and a studio remodel, but I'm stalled on that right now, so more on that another time.) What about you? What's appealing to your Muse right now? Leave a comment or pop over to my Facebook page and let me know. I love hearing what everyone's enthused about!

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Is that really you?! (My cat Jack used to do the best surprised face.)

This morning I started reading Brene Brown's Braving the Wilderness. And I was crying right from the first story. And I was reading while on the treadmill doing intervals, so in retrospect this might not have been my best choice. But I found in her stories of not belonging and wanting to belong a parallel map to my own life. 

I have always felt like I don't quite fit in. I come from a family that loves to make fun of each other. They think they are doing a friendly teasing thing, but as the kid who always heard how weird I was and how unlike the rest of the family, it really sank in that I didn't quite fit. I spent high school and college and even a bit beyond trying to be "normal" and fit in. Which meant that I passed up chances to do things with the "weird" kids who might really have been my people. But I could never shake my love of horror movies and all things spooky and reading horror and fantasy and sci fi, so I was never quite normal enough. 

And now? Not normal enough for most (still don't like romance movies or rom coms or things like that, so I still frequently feel on the outside of conversations at parties, etc.). Not weird enough for the "out there" crowd. But now I also think I'm not actually the only in-betweener. Before,I was so busy trying to fit in someplace that I forgot to look around for the people who are like me. Now I see that I’m not in some isolated wilderness.

So what does this have to do with creativity? So much. It comes down to "be yourself," I guess. But also more. Know yourself. Figure out who you are and what you like, and then learn to spot it when you see it. Also learn to pare away anything that isn't "it." Like what you like. Follow the trends if you love them and they set something ringing inside you. Ignore them if they don't light you up. 

It doesn't matter if what you're doing looks or sounds like things others are doing. Yours will always have that component of you-ness to it, especially as you do it more. So don't worry about trying to find your personal thing. Do the things you are drawn to, and your personal thing will emerge.

But the important part, and kind of the hard part, is figuring out if something is for you. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Did someone suggest this, encourage me to try this, push this at me?
  • Did I feel a spark of excitement when I first saw this/heard of this? Do I still feel it when I look at this? 
  • Do I want to do this but feel like I should be doing or trying something else?

That last one is a big giveaway. If you feel like you should be doing something else even though you really like the thing you're looking at, do the thing you like. Then do it some more. And then some more. Keep doing what you like; keep asking yourself what you like and if you still like it (because likes do change). Follow you and what you love. 

*Note: You know this stuff (well, maybe not the part about me feeling like an outsider). We all know this stuff. We just need to remember and look to ourselves for the deepest guidance.

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I feel a little awkward and uncertain about putting this out there. I don’t know if this is mine to write. But this is what I’ve been thinking about and working on for myself the past few days, and I feel like it’s important, so I’m sharing.

Antiracism work must be folded into our everyday lives. It must become part of normal. We go about our days, work, cook, clean, do our art challenges, fitness challenges, read some antiracism and justice and equity articles or books or social media, share, donate on payday. Make this normal. Make it what you do. Make it sustainable for the long haul. 

Things you can do to start making it part of daily life:

  • Join book clubs that read and talk about antiracism and equity
  • Join online groups that talk about antiracism and equity and actions
  • Follow BIPOC social media accounts that do the same
  • Regularly shop from Black-owned businesses
  • Follow BIPOC artists and creatives
  • Read BIPOC authors

There are others out there writing about this, about things we can do to do more and keep things going. Find them, read them, do the things. Keep the change happening!

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These are not normal times. You don’t have to act like they are. You do not have to try to do everything the way you always do it right now. And you definitely don’t have to strive to do even more--start a business, learn a language, start lifting weights (you don’t have to do those things in more normal times, either, if you aren’t really into them). Right now, you do not have to push yourself. Now is not the time for extreme productivity. It’s a time for caring for yourself and your family and friends and the world around us. It is a time for listening to your body, seeing how you feel, going with the flow of what you need.

This is also not a great time to do nothing. Great swathes of unfilled time can really amp up anxiety and depression, and no one needs that any time, especially now. I know my first two weeks of being unemployed during all of this I was awash in all the hard feelings. So I made some changes to help myself. I’ve talked about them with a few friends, and everyone seemed to find it helpful, so I thought I’d write about it.

What did I do? I gave myself some structure. I’m not talking about rigid schedules and pages of to-do lists. For me, that’s just more stress, and if I miss one of my tasks I end up feeling worse. What’s working for me is a looser sort of schedule.

I figured out things I wanted to do with my time, and then I broke my day into blocks that work for me. You might need to experiment to figure out what works for you. For example, in the below schedule I started out with having a scheduled activity at the end of my 2 - 4 p.m. block, and that was not working at all, so I changed things up.

Here’s what my weekday schedule looks like right now (my blocks are very loose--sometimes I don’t start on Block 2 until 10:30, etc., and I recommend doing something different on the weekends):

  • Get up around 8 a.m.
  • Block 1 8-10: Clean up, get dressed, feed cats, make coffee. During this time I have breakfast, check email, goof off online, read articles.
  • Block 2 10-12: I do something hands-on*. So far I’ve reorganized my linens and moved them to a new location, cleared some old clothes out of the closet, emptied a bookcase that’s getting moved. Sometimes I vacuum or clean out the fridge. And lately I’m working on learning to sew. I find something that has me away from computers and phones and actually, actively doing something or making something is really good for my brain. I recommend trying it out. 
  • Block 3 12 - 1: I take a break before doing a quick Spanish lesson at 12:30. 
  • Block 4 2-4 (ish): Right now I use this time to work on my license renewal classes for my teaching license. When I finish those around the end of May I plan to work on the MasterClass classes I signed up for.
  • Block 5 4-6: I take a break, then do something hands-on again (this is when I exercise and sometimes do some painting in my art journal). 
  • Evening: I make dinner around 6, visit with friends online, then spend my evenings working on art projects, playing online, and watching TV.

I worked out these blocks based on what I noticed about how I perceive time. I tend to think about it as morning, late morning, noon, afternoon, late afternoon, evening. I don’t know why, but it did make it easy for me to block my time out. Some things to think about if you want to try this:

  • Figure out the things you both want and need to do in a day
  • Don’t fill every minute with “productive” things; schedule in plenty of downtime and relaxation
  • Let yourself skip the schedule if you’re having a really hard day
  • Check in with yourself and see how you feel and change the schedule if you feel like it’s not working
  • Do something every day that makes you laugh or at least smile

*Why something hands-on? Because our bodies need to do things. Our brains feel better when we give them different sorts of tasks to work on throughout the day. The sense of accomplishment from clearing a shelf, cleaning out the fridge, painting a page is a mood booster. 

I hope this gives you some ideas of how to make your days a little smoother. If you’re struggling (really, even if you’re not feeling that) give yourself a break. Give yourself some love. Take care of yourself out there!

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For the past two weeks (I started two weeks ago today!), my kitchen sink is clean (I got this idea years ago from my therapist, and then later from the Fly Lady website). This sounds pretty small, maybe unimportant. But it's making a noticeable difference for me, for my state of mind and I think for my creativity.

See, I'm a slob. And I have too much stuff, but I really like having all of it, but I am not good at organizing or tidying, so...my house is a cluttered mess. And dirty, because the clutter makes it nearly impossible to clean floors or really anything else. And this natural state of mine leaves me anxious and depressed and creatively blocked. So I decided I need to find a way to change things.

I've been on this bandwagon before. A few times. So I'm trying not to get too excited. But this time I do feel like it's different. I'm not trying to immediately add in a new thing as soon as the sink is clean. I'm just sinking in to that habit (pun not intended, but now that I noticed it, I'm keeping it!). I'm going all Kaizen-Muse with this.

So far the hardest part is fighting off the thoughts that this is too small and is never going to help me get to the bigger goal of a tidy and welcoming and organized home. I just tell myself it doesn't matter if it doesn't go further. This habit is giving me lots of good things all on its own--a feeling of accomplishment; better meals because I don't order carry-out or get fast food because there are no clean pans for cooking and I'm too tired to clean them; space to work when I want to make something, even when it's just making my lunch.

I have an inkling that there might be deeper payoffs, too. This past week I found myself doing some writing and capturing some really fun new story ideas. I've been doing a little bit of art journaling even though I don't have clear space to work in. I started designing embroideries for this year's The 100 Day Project.

Are these related to my sink project? I don't know. I do feel like there are some feeling shifts stemming from the clean sink initiative (yes, I do watch a lot of superhero movies). My plan is to continue with this until it really sinks in and becomes a habit. This is going to take longer than the 21 days that gets tossed around in regards to habit building. I think that 21 days is only true if you are trying to build a brand new habit, not when you're also trying to overcome old habits. But that's another conversation.

I'm planning on writing about this house cleaning thing (tidying? I do like the word) more. Report in on how its going, report on any changes and additions. For now I just wanted to put it out there, say that I'm doing it, see if anyone else is feeling this pull to clear their space and make room for more of what they really want.

So drop me a note and let me know about your cleaning and tidying. We can share tips and cheer each other on.

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It's been a while. And then I started this post and let it go for several days. This is telling me I need to revamp how I keep in touch--clearly I don't have the right system set up.

Since the beginning of June, life has been a lot. My beloved cat dying suddenly from cancer. My job ending. Traveling to see family for the first time since my mom died five years ago. My partner leaving his job of 15 years for a new opportunity. Adopting a new cat so very soon after my darling died because our other boy was sad without a friend and having the new kitty girl go into heat almost immediately right when my partner was leaving for two weeks for the new job. Yeah, it's been like that.

Some of my pages from The100DayProject

Through it all I did keep to some creative practice. I was doing The100DayProject, and I stuck to it through all the chaos. Friends and others have commented that this is impressive and some have wondered how I managed to stick with it. I did a little post about this on my Facebook page the other day, but I thought I'd write a little more and put this somewhere easy to find for people who need it at some point.

What I did to keep in touch with my creativity:

  • I made sure my projects could be varied so that I could work for just a few minutes or half an hour or more depending on how my day was going. And every day I told myself I would just do a few minutes (and most days it turned into a longer time and was always rewarding)
  • I put my supplies right where I could see them every day and could just sit down and use them when I was ready to work
  • I used social media as my accountability partner and reported what I did every day
  • I told my partner and my closest friend when I was having an "I don't feel like doing anything" day; saying it out loud always helps me get myself off the couch
  • I gave myself permission up front to do "ugly" work or "plain" work like just some paint and washi tape on a page where I did practice brush lettering

So, what to do if you are struggling to get to your creative work?

  • Find the smallest steps you can do. Make a list of them so when you're really busy/tired/resistant/whatever you don't have to try to think of what to do.
  • Do the smallest step. Don't try to make yourself do more. If you do something for three minutes and you really don't want to do more, that's fine. It still counts.
  • Find a way to keep yourself accountable, a way to report your successes. Hashtags are pretty good for this.
  • Try for some variety in your creative practice so you don't get bored or feel stuck.
  • Let yourself do practice work, ugly work, plain work. Don't aim for finish products or your best pieces every single day.

I hope this helps if you're feeling stuck or overwhelmed. Keeping up with our creative work when life is particularly hard is important. It helps clear the mind and fill the soul, and it gives us a win in days that might not have many. So don't let go of your creativity when things are bumpy, just find a way to make it easier. Your future self with thank you for it.

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I liked this book. It really felt good right now, when I am doing some reinventing and bringing myself back to beginner mind and fresh takes. I'm always buoyed by cute graphics with encouraging words, too, so I enjoyed running across those throughout the book.

Things I particularly liked:

  • The examination of job, career, and calling
  • The should list and the questions to ask about each of our personal shoulds
  • The 10 minute activities and small steps to help you find your must
  • The obituary activity
  • The fears list activity

Not my favorite stuff:

  • I think we need to talk more about fitting your musts into your should world, because for most of us that's how it's going to look. I think most of our paths are going to have our shoulds and our musts walking side-by-side. This was addressed more in the last half of the book, but I felt like it should have been acknowledged earlier. We need to fit our must in with paying bills and meeting our everyday obligations and needs.
  • The idea that everyone is born with a calling they just need to find. I think sometimes we realize we want a calling or passion, and we can go out and experiment and create one. But it doesn't have to be some big birthright sort of thing. It's okay to develop a calling in your 90s if that's where you find yourself, and if it's not something you were interested in during childhood, that's just fine.
  • Not the fault of the book or anything about the writing, but this didn't work for me as an ebook. This book is meant to be read in full color.

Overall, I liked this. It returned my focus to what I want to be doing. It reminded me that there are things I can do even on days when I'm exhausted, depressed, in pain, whatever. It made me want to get up and do things, and that's the thing I loved the most.

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You're not a sketcher? You don't draw? Get back here! This book is still for you. Maybe you'll even want to try out some of the drawing exercises. Even if you don't, give this book a read.

The parts about developing a habit and breaking the rules apply to every creative as does the section on fitting in your creative practice. The encouraging talk about trying new things and dodging perfectionism will speak to pretty much all of us, too, I think. And I completely love "The Week of Living Artfully." We can do this with any kind of work we do!

That's the magic of this book. It's about drawing, but you can easily see how you could adapt this to whatever art form you are working with. It really is about finding a zillion ways to be creative.

Ways to use this book if you don't draw:

  • Change each exercise to fit your chosen art form
  • Write about how the exercises make you feel about your own art (or in general)
  • Take photos representing each exercise
  • Try the drawing stuff anyhow

Finally, my favorite takeaway: "Every time you find a reason not to create, the art you mihgt have made doesn't exist."

Go make something.

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I actually finished this about two weeks ago. I've been procrastinating about writing this blog post, which is really kind of funny given the subject of the book. Don't let my lack of finishing this post right away keep you from reading the book, though. There's a lot in here that's great food for thought, and I think quite a bit of this is going to be useful.

Part of why I couldn't get started on writing this is because I felt like I have too much to say about the book, and I wanted to be concise and write something good and so on. Then I remembered to actually take some advice from the book; I changed my goal, simplified, made it easier. What I'm going to do instead of the big, complicated post I thought I needed is give you some lists. So, here you go.

Things I Especially Liked:

  • Every chapter gives you steps to take, actual actions you can do to help you
  • There are lots of examples of people using these ideas (I do wish there weren't so many about weight loss and sports, but they're still helpful)
  • There's a whole chapter on ways to measure your progress
  • There's a focus on making goals smaller, giving yourself more time--all the Kaizen Muse small step goodness
  • The whole chapter about hiding places and noble obstacles (ways we can avoid trying to reach our goals and still feel like we're doing something good)

Favorite Advice:

  • Make it fun if you want it done (joyless goals fail)
  • Don't try to get everything in place before taking action
  • Choose what to bomb (aka strategic incompetence)
  • Attainable goals are motivating
  • Finishers make things easier and simpler
  • This is our life's work--it should be something we love that feels important to us and that we get enjoyment and satisfaction from

So that's it. Short-ish and to the point. Read the book. Definitely take the steps. Most importantly, let's all get out there and finish our stuff!

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