Chinook

Winter can’t decide if it’s thawing or freezing, but I’m ready to hibernate for another three months. 2017 started with a bang with Alt Alt DIY Fest which was such a huge success on so many levels that I could not have anticipated. However it left me feeling quite emotionally, physically, mentally, and even spiritually drained for most of January and the better part of February. I’ve been in denial about how much that event took out of me because it was so truly obviously worth it, but living in denial is not the start to being able to adequately replenish myself.

Now that it is nearly March, and new projects are on the horizon, I am taking time to reflect on what it is I need to move forward. Burn out is a luxury I am afforded as a single person with good support networks and steady employment with health benefits. I can work myself to the bone for my community then collapse inwardly because no one is counting on me for their 24/7 sustenance, and because I know there are people around me who will catch me if I fall too deeply into depression or self loathing. It is truly a privileged position that I feel blessed to occupy, but this is not how I want to create in my career. Periods of intense creation, and intense seclusion will always be necessary to my practice, but neither state should be so extreme that it put such unnecessary strain on my day to day ability to live my life.

A huge part of the burn out taking two months is that I need to work 35 hours a week in addition to the 20-30 hours of creative & community work required by projects of this scale in order to support myself. It is hard for me currently to imagine a point when that level of work would not be required in order to stay a float, however I recognize that is a limitation in my belief structure rather than a hard fact. The question then becomes how to move beyond that bias in order to start to look at ways to become more self sufficient.

This is a powerful lesson to take from Alt Alt, the gift that keeps on giving, and now that I’ve identified what I want to avoid I need to set my imagination to work to find a new way. How can I create a practice that allows for projects of this scale without sacrificing my well-being?

It’s Pisces season, and spring is just around the corner which I feel is a good time to reflect on this question. I’m asking for creative vision to guide me in the next month as I look inwards to recenter. This is a time for tinkering, for dreaming, for meditating, for empathy, for love, for reflection. Planting seeds this month to harvest come June.

If you have experience or resources relating to managing burn out as a creative, or transitioning out of the work force let me know in the comments.

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My process

A recipe for success?

  1. Nap
  2. Have an existential crisis along the lines of “I will never create work again!”
  3. Frantically begin planning all of the projects over several notebooks, spreadsheets, text conversations, and chewed fingernails
  4. Plan to move away somewhere far where no one knows you and get a real job in a post office or cafe
  5. Make tea and soberly look out the window to see which idea comes to mind first, boil more water and refine
  6. Do the work, in small steps, that don’t require too much fore thought, but that make logical sense, until it starts to become too exciting to put down
  7. Go on a bunch of dates to try to overcome your nervous energy by channeling it into a bunch of new possibilities instead of focusing on the task at hand
  8. The thing is starting to look more like a thing! That you can tell people about! Time to invite in collaborators! Probably people you went on dates with in step 7
  9. Become morbidly depressed over the state of the world, the state of the work, and the sorry state of yourself. Decide to quit everything and go back to step 4
  10. Breathe, do some yoga, maybe eat a food, read a book by an author you adore
  11. Look at the thing you have created, look for what is missing, fill it with your love & excitement to share with the people you care about
  12. Share it in one wild beautiful attempt to transcend all the other drudgery and escape the inevitability that you will wind up returning to step 1 in a matter of hours

Rinse and repeat.

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Depression & Creativity

Most of my writing has sprung from the fertile black soil of depression, but my creativity does not bloom in the darkness of the soul. Longer nights & greyer days. I struggle to keep pace in the changing seasons. I long for solitude, silence, and long autumn walks. Instead it is a ghastly busy season filled with errands of the daily grind I would rather leave undone. 

Would these bleak hours feel more hospitable if I were master over my own time to whittle away the dwindling days in my cabin amongst the falling leaves? Or am I cursed to count these mortal hours listlessly in the waning of the year as the darkest hour of the soul?

I am tired. Barely energy to get through the day. I crave rest. A peace of mind I have not known in many a moon.

Medicating to stay a float I find that I’m faced with the rot that has accumulated in the corners of my mind. No longer concealed by the reeling of my thoughts. Regulated interactions make me question. It’s a long road to better off than the poor old soul in the casket. Don’t we all crave the sweet release of death? And yet here we are busy with the business of living, but to what end?

My depression does not stoke the fires of my creativity rather it sucks me dry, but it’s such an old friend I would be lost with out it. Am I depressed because I ask too much of life? Or is life too much for me because I am depressed? I wish my brain would get on with the business of living already. Everything around me is dying & it is so awfully dull.

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Half an afternoon thought

Sometimes I feel like pieces of me are falling off, and sometimes I feel like pieces are being sucked in to the black hole just below my ribcage above my navel. My heart is extra fragile these days because a few too many of these thoughts have jostled & bruised it on their way into the centre of that blackness. Soon my head will be as clean as first snow, but I hope that my heart is still whole & able to enjoy it. 

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Anxiety & creation

I’ve begun to own more & more that I have an anxiety problem. I have not been diagnosed so I won’t say disorder, but occasionally I am over run by a crippling fear, adrenaline, cold sweat, heart and thought racing kind of feeling. Sometimes it’s accute and begins and ends rapidly, sometimes it’s a prolonged uneasiness that sits with me for days and disturbs my focus and robs my sleep. After either is usually followed by a blue period of listless apathy and regret. It can be triggered by many things and sometimes for no apparent reason at all. 

So how do I create work in spite of this feeling of impending doom?

A big one is give the brain a problem to solve. Often the characteristic of anxiety is ungrounded fear that is incurred from events or experiences out of my control. If there is a tangible task set before the anxious mind all that nervous energy can be channeled into solving it as quickly as possible to relieve the symptoms of stress.

The other one is to disassociate my creative self from my anxious self. I have to be careful with disassociation as it has been tied into my major depressive spells where I can feel lost inside myself for days or months at a time. However, in this case by being able to see my anxious thoughts as not part of myself, as something that is happening inside of me like indigestion that isn’t truly who I am, I can set those thoughts aside more easily. Sometimes I do that by writing every anxious thought down, or scheduling a specific time slot when I’m allowed to think about it, or through visualization exercises. 

Being able to accept that these thoughts are happening to me, but do not define me has been a huge step forward. I think there is a lot of fear of mental health stigma still, or now the double edged sword of fear of misusing mental health language in an ableist fashion. I’ve not been diagnosed mostly because I can’t afford to go see someone who would be qualified to diagnose me, but being able to name these emotional upheavals has helped me be able to work on soothing them. Same as naming them has allowed me to talk about them and ask for help.

Creatively, if I am feeling anxious about a project it is usually the easiest anxiety to quell because I can lay out clear steps to get me where I’m going that my anxious brain can latch on to. Each step might fail, but it provides a way to tangibly measure the outcomes of my anxiety to disprove it again and again. Social anxiety lacks these clear markers of success. Anxiety about the future is too large to productively map. Anxiety triggered by feelings of unsafety is not so easily quelled as the stakes are much higher. Creative anxiety can actually be quite motivating as those bursts of nervous energy can help me achieve super human feats in relatively short periods of time.

Because of the positive correlation between my anxiety & creativity I often wish to get through particularly anxious times with more creativity. The problem is my energy & resources are limited. It can set me up for unrealistic expectations which lead to a bigger drop when anxiety subsides and I have not channeled it through this creative lens. Intensified anxiety does not always mean intensified creativity, and at a point is just disruptive. I’ve had anxiety attacks so intense I thought I was physically ill. At those times there is no amount of creative out put that will help me cope.

Usually though my anxiety needs the same things my creativity needs: 

  • A space where I feel safe to fail and be vulnerable. 
  • People who love & support me. 
  • Time to work itself through to completion. 
  • Mindfulness to experience this moment fully before jumping on to the next. 
  • Compassionate truth seeking to cut through illusions without degrading the spirit entwined in them.
  • And radical vulnerability to be present and generous in this state of flux.
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5x body of/in work

You may have noticed that I have taken a break from publishing these lists every week. In short, it’s summer, and I’m tired. However as I re-entered the studio this week to continue work on Dear Devotion a couple of these links really jumped out at me, so I wanted to share. I’m more interested in sharing the work than the links at this time, so I make no promises how regularly I will post these lists. For now, here are some pieces I am reflecting on in my body of/in work.

Enjoy

  1. Creepy Ghost tunes by mass marriage via Weird Canada
  2. Hacking the Canon via Canadian Art
  3. Stop Treating Emotions Like Character Flaws of the Powerless via The Establishment
  4. Diva in Full Swing via Howl Round
  5. Am I A Dancer Who Gave Up? via the wonderful Alicia Ward
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Year of yin: poised to strike

July had the texture of lightening before it strikes. A threat that promises to deliver destructive renewal. The currants firm against my skin taught around a fluttering breath. I am longing for a natural disaster or divine intervention. Nerves like live wires, cloying sticky hot clouds form around my mind as my eyes scan the horizon with lazer percision. Thunder clap looming in my throat as of yet silent. Still lazy in the heat I move slowly as tension rises. Restless & relentless; I am caught spinning lopsided while frictions momentum grinds down the whirligig propulsion as I begin to gravitate towards eternal stillness.

I am gathering my energy to strike out in exacting devotion.

Quiet destruction of idol gods feared by lazy minds. A creative out burst followed by a rich down pour of inntuituve truth seeking.

Electrified battle scars ready for healing.

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