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What I Did, and What I Learned
“A painting is never finished. It simply stops in interesting places.”
“Living is a form of not being sure, of not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.”
- Agnes de Mille
By the time this newsletter arrives in your inbox, I will be back to regularly scheduled programming at my day job. I was very tempted to jump right back into Work Mode and title this newsletter something like “What I Learned When I Stopped Working for 8 Weeks,” or “Three Easy Steps to a More Creative, Happier, and Fulfilling Life.” My open rate would skyrocket! And while no one loves a tidy recap more than I do, a subject line like that would be misleading. My aspirations for this time have never been black-and-white, and the outcomes of it aren’t either, though I’ll try here to provide as tidy a recap as I can manage.
I began my sabbatical with firm intentions to be N.A.T.O. - not attached to outcomes. I knew that having a big, ambitious goal like “writing a novel” was too much pressure and was just going to be a prelude to disappointment. And I really meant it! I didn’t have an outcome in mind. But eventually I realized that while I didn’t have ambitions, I was fooling myself if I was pretending I didn’t have expectations. I did expect something to come out of this process, I just didn’t know what it would be. Now that it’s over I can look back on this time and say that in fact my ambiguous expectations were met and even exceeded. A lot happened! I accomplished a lot, and learned a lot, too. So without further ado: What I did and what I learned.
WHAT I DID
I wrote these newsletters. But that statement barely scratches the surface! If I dig a little deeper, it looks more like this:
a. I committed to a newsletter a week, and fulfilled that commitment. I’m proud of that! It was the only concrete goal that I had aside from doing the weekly work in The Artist’s Way, and it took a lot of work and time, and I did it!
b. After 6+ years of parenthood and 7+months of pandemic I dusted off my brain and thought long and hard about things that weren’t practical, job- or home- or child-related, or stemming from anxiety. In short: I had ideas! And then I strung together sentences about those ideas and wrote them down, and rewrote them and crystallized them and organized it all into these various newsletters. I haven’t written anything outside of work stuff in so long, it truly felt like many parts of my brain had atrophied. But it was still in there, waiting for me like a loyal and scabby old labrador retriever.
c. Via these newsletters, I connected or reconnected more deeply with several friends, coworkers, and family members. So many of you replied with thoughtful, encouraging, sweet, important, kind, and/or vulnerable things to share, not to mention the many long and interesting conversations I had with friends via text or Marco Polo or in the living room with Spencer after the kids were sleeping about some of the topics in these newsletters and beyond. I can’t express how much all of this meant to me or how grateful I am that anyone even read anything I wrote. It was by far the best part of all of this, and made it worth it, and will stay with me for a long time.
I started an Instagram account where I posted many comics, charts, and drawings. But again, digging a little deeper, what this really meant was that I put myself out there in a new and scary way. My decision to start an Instagram account and share my work publicly came late in my sabbatical planning process, and I was initially racked with dread about it. For a while I thought I wouldn’t use it at all. Now, I’m so glad I did. Like these newsletters, sharing my work on Instagram connected me to other people and helped me feel less alone, and was gratifying and exciting in a way I didn’t expect.
I grew as an artist. I learned so much! I learned more about my supplies and different techniques; I improved my drawing skills; I made comics for the first time; I drew self-portraits for the first time; I signed up for and participated in various workshops and several asynchronous classes; I got better at letting go of perfection in my work; I got better at letting go of the idea that I needed to be wholly original or brilliant; I filled three notebooks with sketches, drawings, and thoughts; I tried so many new things.
I grew as a person. In the middle of my sabbatical I decided to quit drinking through the end of the year (maybe longer, we’ll see). I’m not sure if this is because of sabbatical or because trying to self-medicate with alcohol in 2020 was definitely not working for me. Either way, it was something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and it feels big for me, and I’m glad I did it. I also started meditating regularly; I have been doing yoga everyday for the past month (and I was not a yoga person); and I learned a lot about myself and my own personal hang-ups by working through The Artist’s Way. (And if any small part of you is like, “Ugh, good for you 🙄” — thoughyou’re probably not because you’re a MUCH nicer person than I am and would NEVER roll your eyes at someone telling you they feel so amazing because they do yoga every morning and meditate every day and don’t drink — know that I get it completely, and all of this feels a little miraculous to me. It all feels like habits or choices the me of nine weeks ago would not have been capable of.)
Finally, I’ve been really leaning in to my dream of dressing like a 70’s art teacher.
WHAT I LEARNED (or, “Three Simple Things You Can Do For a Happier, More Creative, More Fulfilling Life.” Sorry! Couldn’t resist 😎)
If you like what someone is doing, tell them. Every reply I received to a newsletter, every text from a friend, every comment on something I posted on Instagram—all of it meant so much to me. Getting feedback gave me a meaningful boost to keep going, and receiving encouragement from others made me more generous in doling out appreciation, too (to random people on Instagram whose work I liked, to Ev and Gigi’s teachers for their heroic efforts at keeping school going, to Spencer for all he does every day, to writers whose work I follow and enjoy), a practice I hope to continue. Especially during quarantine while we are all separated from each other, spending the energy to tell someone they’re doing a good job feels even more meaningful than usual. It takes just a little effort to tell someone you’re into what they’re doing, and it can mean so much to them. More reaching out and encouragement in 2021!
Anything is possible! (or If I can do it, so can you.) Don’t get me wrong, I fully recognize that adding creative habits to your life gets a lot easier when you subtract full-time employment, lol. Maybe I’ll be eating these words in a few weeks, but I think my experience is a good example of how anyone can get more creative in their lives. Prior to my sabbatical I had my doubts about whether I would have any ideas or what I’d be able to come up with during this time. I am not classically trained in the arts! I am not a creative genius! I am a 37-year-old mother of two with part-time childcare and no help around the house besides my husband, and we are both working our butts off all the time doing all of the tedious and endless chores that go along with keeping two kids happy and fed and keeping the house we are always in, day in and day out, low-to-medium-level clean. Does that sound dreary? It can be! But it’s less dreary when you make comics about it after the kids are in bed 🙃 Anyway, my point is that even in that environment: It is possible! And if I—a very normal person who is often tired and also has a tendency toward laziness—can do it, you can do it, too, if you want to. And if even a little part of you wants to try something new, that brings me to my third lesson...
Say yes. Say YES! Give yourself permission to do things or try things even if (maybe especially if) it seems pointless or scary. Not to get too woo woo on you, but I feel like sometimes while we’re staring off into space little inklings come to us, and when that happens we should listen. I’m not just talking about art or creative work, either. We might get an inkling: “Basketball. Basketball sounds fun. I don’t know how to play basketball, but dribbling, man...I’m in the mood to dribble.” Or maybe you’re taking the trash out and you see your neighbor’s Halloween decorations and you have a vision of your house tricked out for Halloween, maybe a garage Haunted House situation, and that gives you a little thrill. I think as an adult it has become my tendency to ignore those impulses, to not do things that upon further examination feel pointless or that I might be bad at, because I have so many other things to do. But paying attention and saying yes to these inklings is a way to take a little break from the hamster wheel and expands your sense of possibility. So going forward, I’ll try to remember: Say yes, give yourself permission, listen to the inklings.
BONUS SECTION: HOW TO SABBATICAL
A horrible habit of Virgos is to give unsolicited (but I mean, good) advice, a habit I tend towards but am trying to change, so I hesitated to include this section because I recognize that not everyone is able to or interested in embarking on a creative retreat. However, if you did want to do a something like that, or just add more art in your life, I do have a few tips.
Make a plan. Prior to my sabbatical I was very worried that I would get out there and just have no idea what to do or how to even begin, so I spent a few weeks prior thinking about what I wanted to do and putting together a loose plan. I made a weekly calendar; I thought about a daily journaling practice and what elements I would want to include; I got a jump on coming up with ideas for Artist Dates; and I considered how other parts of my routine would fit into the process such as my morning walk and my afternoon childcare responsibilities. In the end I probably went a little overboard, but I also had a good idea going in of how my time was going to be spent—not necessarily what I was going to make, but roughly what my days might look like—and that was a huge help. I think this could also be scaled down to a Weekend Retreat plan, and it’s a process I’ll be applying now that I’m going back to work as I figure out how to carve out time to paint, draw, or write in my life, so that it actually happens.
...Then deviate. I mentioned in a previous newsletter that I started out with a very elaborate journaling routine. However, I kept feeling frustrated by how long it took, and after a few days, I ditched it. Planning is good but flexibility is important, too. Follow your gut and if something isn’t working don’t force it.
Tap into all available resources. Sign up for one-time art classes (a benefit of the pandemic is that so many art studios are offering Zoom classes, which I’ve had good experiences with). CreativeBug is a great resource for asynchronous classes, and there are others. Start following people on Instagram whose work you like, and copy/get inspired by it. Pick up some art books and comics. There’s so much out there once you start to look for it!
So, what’s next, now that I’m back to the grind? Well, this will be the last weekly newsletter. However, The Artist’s Way is actually a 12 week program, and I am currently on Week 8. I have four more weeks to go and I intend to complete it! I will probably send at least one more newsletter once I’m done, and I can tell you if and how I’ve kept up my creative habits.
After that, who knows. This may be the end of my sabbatical, but it feels like the beginning of something, too.
THE WEEK IN WORK
I completed Week 8 of The Artist’s Way. The parts that resonated most with me this week were about focusing on the process rather than the outcome, and committing to small actions every day that help you on your way instead of being overwhelmed by the larger, long-term goals. I did morning pages every day.
For my Artist’s Date I went to the Conservatory of Flowers (also reopened!) and ogled all the insane orchids and enormous lily pads. (Also now that we are at the end(ish) of these newsletters I feel I can admit that I cringed every time I typed Artist Date. Those really need a rebrand! “Field trip”? What’s wrong with “field trip,” Julia Cameron??)
I signed up for Elizabeth Haidle’s “Personal Power Symbols” course, which is four weeks long, and completed the first week. I am really enjoying it as a way to put words to my feelings, and I’m so inspired by what other people in the class are doing! Check out the #personalpowersymbols hashtag on Instagram.
I did a class on repeated landscape grids with Case for Making. I’m not really into landscapes and that’s why I took it! I enjoyed the class and hope to take more with CfM in the future.
I posted some new work on @krista_makes. I also wrote this newsletter! Here are the archives in case you’d like to catch up.
MAY I RECOMMEND
Doing yoga with Adriene. As I mentioned I have never been into yoga before, but I’m at the end of Adriene’s 30 Day yoga “journey” called “Home” and I have really enjoyed it! Adriene is the YouTube yoga queen for a reason!
Listening to or reading This Naked Mind if you have any interest in drinking less or quitting drinking. (I borrowed it the audiobook from the library.) I learned so much and it helped me to make the decision to quit for a few months.
Hanging some stained glass. We have a couple of Debbie Bean’s pieces in our windows and I love them so much. I want one for every window!
Subscribing to Evil Witches Newsletter, a “newsletter for witches who happen to be mothers.” As a mom, I really love hearing from other moms who get frustrated and grouchy and ragey, but I don’t think you need to be a parent to enjoy them!
Thank you thank you thank you for reading. I’m so grateful for this experience and for the encouragement along the way. I’ll be back in a few weeks with an update.