making a decision

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”
― William Hutchison Murray

Have you ever noticed how powerful it can be to make a decision? How focused you become when you go from the uncertainty of multiple options to the clarity of one single choice? It can happen with decisions as simple as where to go for dinner or which art project to start on first, to as complex as what city to live in or whether to have kids or not. Once you make the decision, all the other options fall away and you can focus on enjoying your meal, or packing your bags.

A few weeks ago, I had to decide whether I wanted to participate in or opt out of a class-action lawsuit. My gut was telling me to opt out but I kept debating with myself about it right up until the deadline. At the last moment, I finally faxed in the 'opt-out' form and felt a sense of freedom. Whether or not it was the 'right' choice, I had made the decision and cleared away the fog of confusion. I was able to move on with my day.

The thing that I've noticed is that there is often no way to know what the 'right' decision is in the moment, or if there even is a 'right' decision. Often we just have to make a choice and deal with the consequences, whatever they may be. Sometimes you can change your mind, sometimes you can't. Sometimes we have a lot of information, sometimes we don't. Sometimes the decision is over something concrete, like which paint colour to choose for the living room, and sometimes it's a little more nebulous, like what do I really want to do with my life? (more…)

reading 2016It was a bit of a slow season for reading: I started plenty of books but these are the only ones I finished and liked enough to tell you about. That should change, though, now that the temperature has dropped and I'll be taking the bus instead of riding my bike. I have at least an hour and a half of extra reading time each day. Can't wait!


 State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

I wanted to read this book because Elizabeth Gilbert mentions it in a beautiful story in her book Big Magic, about how the inspiration for a novel seemed to leave Gilbert and land inside Patchett's mind when they shared an intense connection, and how delighted Gilbert was when she realized that the story she had abandoned had been taken up by someone else.

Obviously, I had to know what it was about. One of the few books that was unanimously liked by our book club, this was definitely a page turner. It's the story of a woman working for a pharmaceutical company who is sent to the Amazon by her boss and lover to find out what happened to her colleague, and to check up on the doctor who was supposed to be developing a fertility drug. When she gets there she learns to take control of her own life, and her own past. The writing is crisp and vivid and each character is meticulously developed.

A stranger sitting next to me on the bus said that Bel Canto (Ann Patchett's most famous book) is better so now I look forward to reading that one as well! (more…)

creative role modelsThis is a series where I write about the people that inspire me to be more creative every day: the people who live and breathe creativity and are using their passion to make the world a better place. I've also written about Ray Bradbury, Miranda JulyNick Bantock, Jim Hensen, Lisa CongdonAmanda Palmer, and Elizabeth Gilbert.

Who is Lynda Barry?

A writer, cartoonist, and champion of drawing and creativity. She had a ground-breaking weekly comic strip (see some examples here) for 30 years and once print media started to dry up she turned to books, publishing graphic novels featuring characters from the comic strips, as well as a novel that was turned into an off-Broadway play. She has also published two books on how to write and draw called What It Is and Picture This (which I love!). She now teaches writing workshops and interdisciplinary university classes for everyone from undergrads to PhD students. You can follow along with her classes and see their homework on her blog, or read about them in her book Syllabus.

What’s so great about her?

meditation retreat

Running Away

As I sat there listening to the teacher speak, I could feel pain radiating up my back. My face grew hot, my throat felt thick and sore, and my eyes started to burn. I had started crying during the last three meditation sittings and was about to start again. Even after he had wrapped up and sent us off to have lunch, the urge to cry wouldn't go away. My nose was running like crazy and I kept my head down to hide the redness around my eyes. Surrounded by people, I felt completely alone and weird. Why was I having such a negative reaction? Everyone else seemed to be feeling peaceful and content. 

I finished my lunch quickly, then decided to go for a walk. First, though, I mustered up the courage to go talk to the teacher. I would let him know how bad I was feeling and see if he had any advice. He was signing books for other participants and I struggled to compose myself as I waited in line. When it was my turn I stepped up and said, "I don't have a book, just a quick question," with my voice shaking. He looked behind me and very gently asked if I could wait while he finished signing the other books.

I stepped to the side and a flood of emotion surged, threatening to drown me. I hurried away and fumbled with the laces of my shoes before stumbling outside, tears pouring down my face. My rational mind knew that he wasn't rejecting me, I knew that he was just being fair to the other people, who had been told that this was the time to have their books signed. But it still felt like every other time I had asked for help and been pushed away. I felt like I didn't belong, like I couldn't possibly be around people anymore. (more…)

walkingWalking is one of those things that seems mundane, purely practical, and frequently inconvenient. We do it when we have somewhere to go, often in a hurry, often wishing that we had a more efficient mode of transportation. I'm thinking of rushing through airports to get to our gate, stressed that it's so far from security, running out for lunch or a coffee before sitting back at our desk, or shuffling to the car or bus and back again.

I remember a time when walking felt like brushing my teeth or putting away laundry: something that I had to do but didn't pay much attention to. In university parking was in high demand and I remember how bummed I was when I had to pay for a spot that was a 15-minute walk from my classes, and how tiresome it was to trek back and forth, especially on cold, dark winter mornings.

Of course, there are times when we choose to walk, like when we hike through the woods or mountains, or when we explore a new city. At these moments, walking feels like a blissful detour from real life. We slow down and appreciate what we experience. Walking is the goal itself, rather than a means to an end.  (more…)

installation at Kaleido FestivalI just spent my weekend doing what I love more than almost anything: creating a piece of art that inspired wonder and joy in the people who saw it. I worked with my friend, Kristi Gurski, to create an art installation on a lamppost as part of Kaleido Family Arts Festival's '24-Hour Deck Out a Lamppost Competition.' It was a lot of work but I was so happy with how it turned out and I would do it all again to see the way peoples' faces lit up when they caught sight of it.

Last year I wrote about Kaleido Festival and how much I love the lamppost installations that artists do every year. It's wonderful to see what artists do with such specific constraints, and how much the installations help to transform the festival grounds into something magical and unexpected. Since I was working for the festival, last year I threw together a quick installation but this year I decided to do it right. I asked Kristi, who has done two lamppost installations in the past, to join me and was so glad that she said yes.

Read on to learn about how we came up with our ideas, how we put it together, and what I learned in the process. (more…)

dallas curow

Photo by Andria Lindquist

One of my favourite ways to stay inspired is to read about how other people put their creativity into practice and learn to live creative lives. Every so often, I’ll be interviewing someone who is letting their creative light shine. Hopefully, these folks will inspire you as much as they inspire me. 

I met Dallas at a Creative Mornings event shortly after she had moved to Edmonton. Right away it was clear that we had lots to talk about and I've really enjoyed getting to know her as she settles into our city. She's very generous with her wisdom about creativity, social media, and running a small business, and, of course, she takes beautiful photographs. I can't wait for our next tea date!

What sort of creative work do you do?

I am primarily a photographer and makeup artist, but I often do bits of art direction, styling and hair in my work as well. I run two photography studios: Dallas Curow Photography, which is my portrait, wedding and lifestyle brand, and I’m in the process of launching Dallas Alexandra, the name under which I shoot commercial and editorial work. My goal, for every project, is to take the raw materials (setting, lighting, subjects) and create a little bit of magic in each frame. I want to create a wonderful experience that yields the best photographs people have ever seen of themselves, and let the images be a memory of the joyful and empowering experience.

Have you always thought of yourself as a creative person? Why or why not?

Yes, as long as I remember, I’ve felt driven to create. I feel energized creating something, and parched and depleted when I’m not creating. I do better when I’m creating rather than consuming; happier when active than passive. I’ve been lucky to have many creative outlets. For a long time, it was classical singing and musical theatre, plus theatre direction, and I’d love to find my way back to those artforms soon. At other times it was painting and drawing. I’ve always loved writing and have often found work as a writer/editor. But photography has always been a part of my life. (more…)

drawing projectTomorrow a yearlong project comes to a close. Last September I started sending out weekly emails to a small group of people who agreed to join me in an experiment. I wanted to see if I could confront my inner critic and my fear of drawing and find a way to make drawing feel fun again. I've spent the last twelve months reading drawing books and blogs, obsessively searching for drawing quotes, writing about drawing, and, of course, drawing. It has been quite an adventure.

This last year I've tried new materials, visited new places, and drawn subjects that I probably never would have otherwise. I've dealt with frustration, boredom, and disappointment and I've enjoyed wonder, delight, and a sense of flow. (more…)

good enough

"So we have to be patient with ourselves. Over and over again we think we need to be somewhere else, and we must find the truth right here, right now; we must find our joy here, now. How seductive it is, the thought of tomorrow. We must find our understanding here. We must find it here; it is always here; this is where the grass is green." - John Tarrant

My partner, Matt, ran a course over the winter to teach people basic mechanical skills by rebuilding a motorbike. They named the finished result "Good Enough," and it was recently featured in a local bike show, with all its quirks and flaws. I love this so much.

I had a rough day at work last week and wanted to treat myself to a night of enjoyment. After dinner, I had an hour before heading out to see a play and I decided to work on a drawing that's been taking weeks to finish. I enjoyed that hour tremendously, and was even happy with the results, but later that night I started to berate myself for only finding an hour to draw this whole week, and for only finishing a two-inch square in that time. I started to resent my job and my other responsibilities and wished that I could just spend the whole day making art.

But then I remembered that life doesn't work that way. That—having all the time and energy I want to make art—is a fantasy that even winning the lottery won't making come true. There will always be days when I have nothing to say, when drawing feels tortuous, or when mundane things like earning money, doing laundry and scrubbing floors will have to take precedence. There will be days when the only creative act I make all day is to snap a quick photo on my lunch break. (more…)

in the studio

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern."  Annie Dillard (Source)

I just found this quote and it feels like the perfect description for both the power and the futility of a creative schedule. I have ideas about how I want to spend my time and they almost never match reality. But I try, week after week, to impose a sense of order on my days to help me feel like I'm accomplishing something and moving forward. As I've written about before, routine and habit help to cement our creative practice. Without this structure, our ideas float off and become lost in the flurry of our days, in the "wreck of time."

This is what my daily routine looks like.

At the office

Three and a half years ago I took a leap and started working part-time— three days a week—so that I could have two days for making art. This was one of the best decisions I've ever made and I'm so grateful for those two days. But it also means that creating a schedule and routine is a bit tricky since my week is carved up into separate sections. After all this time my schedule is far from perfect, but I do have a pretty good idea of what works best for me. (more…)