“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”
― George Bernard Shaw
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
― Albert Einstein
“Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
We've all heard variations on the above quotes about mistakes, about how inevitable and even important they are. They mean that we're growing and moving forward. But as I was looking for inspiration to write this post, I found that these quotes were the opposite of helpful. I can know intellectually that making mistakes is all part of the process and that it doesn't reflect on who I am, but in the moment it sure feels like it does. All the glib quotes in the world won't make rear-ending someone or hurting a friend feel okay.
When I realize I've made a mistake I can feel my stomach drop, like the floor just fell out from under me. Depending on the severity, a slow burning panic might start to spread across my body and I feel like I'm flailing - attempting to grab at the edges of reality like it's a page I can turn back to when I was doing things right, or a sheet I can pull over my head. And then the stories start spinning, telling me that I'm stupid or selfish or a terrible driver who doesn't deserve to be on the road.
When it comes to mistakes, I'm interested in figuring out two things:
1. What do we do with the pain it causes?
2. How can we avoid letting the negative stories take control and shape our vision of who we are?
There are many reasons we make mistakes: we're not paying attention, we're tired or overwhelmed, we're overconfident, we're pushing our limits, we're trying something new and don't know enough yet, or we're suffering from straight up bad luck. Each of these has something different to teach us, as long as we don't let the pain carry us away.
Here are some ways that I'm learning to be mindful about my mistakes: (more…)
This has become another annual tradition of mine: going through my journals and lists from last year to find simple nuggets of wisdom. These are the aha's that shaped my year and that I hope to bring forward into a new year. So many of these seem like common sense, but they're good reminders of the basics. Hopefully they spark some learning for you as well. (You can see lists from past years here and here.)
- Do household chores after creative work. I don't know how many times I caught myself doing laundry or dishes on my art days, and then wondering why I didn't get anything done! Now I've made a firm rule that I won't do any chores until I've finished my art for the day.
- Sometimes you have to start writing before you know what you're writing about. (True for most creative pursuits!)
- Setting aside a minimum amount of time to spend on art in a day helps me stay focused. Last year it was four hours, since that's the max that I can focus on any one project in a day.
- Judgement is what separates us from our creativity. Learning to observe that judgement can help to move past it. I learned this while I was teaching my Creative Adventuring class: I asked the students to observe their surroundings without judgement and we got into a great discussion about mindfulness and creativity!
- If you stop creating, the ideas get jammed up and have nowhere to go so they stop flowing. Keep the taps open. My mom shared this with me and it's totally true.
- Don't expect satisfaction from creative work. Sometimes it will feel good and sometimes it won't - the point is to just keep doing it no matter what. (Martha Graham said, "No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”)
- The creative process is not linear. No matter how hard you work at it there will always be bad work now and then.
- Making stuff eases my anxiety. Getting lost in a project can be a huge help.
- Every mark is a learning experience.
- Distractions and mind wandering are part of my process - I don't need to be so hard on myself.
- I need to schedule time to clean up after projects to keep my space functional.
- Don't over-practice. I had more fun at my last dance recital than I have in years because I was more focused on enjoying the dance than making it perfect. I practised just enough to learn the steps and then let it be.
- I refuse to be grumpy because of art. Stress is inevitable but grumpiness has no place in my art practice.
2016 has been a strange year, hasn't it? The world went a little nuts and the news brought me to tears more than a few times. Professionally I also hit some bumps with cancelled workshops and low art sales. It would be easy enough to write the year off completely.
But it wasn't all bad, and I think it's important to spend some time looking back at the good things that happened. In my personal life I know there are plenty of happy memories to revisit but I was feeling down about my professional progress, until I made this list. Looking at all the projects I've worked on over the year remind me that even thought there's a lot that I want to do differently next year, I still have plenty to be proud of.
Here are my top creative projects, moments, and adventures from 2016. (more…)
For awhile now, I've been on the fence about Christmas gifts. There are years when I love spending hours searching for the perfect gifts for friends and family, and other years when I feel like I'm falling into a black hole of consumption and waste. One year I convinced my family not to exchange gifts and we spent the time we would have spent shopping doing Christmas activities together instead. This was one of my favourite Christmases ever, but it was obvious that other members of my family missed the gifts so now we compromise by drawing names instead of buying for everyone. So far it seems to be working out, and I enjoy putting a lot of thought into one gift, rather than scrambling to get something perfect for everyone.
Still, sometimes it is nice to take a step back from the urge to spend spend spend and make a gift instead. Making things for other people feeds my soul in a way that buying gifts never can because I get to exercise my creativity and develop new skills, while also making those I love happy. It's a win win!
All these ideas are based on either something I received that lit me up, or something I gave that seemed to go over well. It was really nice to remember giving or receiving these gifts, and I hope they inspire you to spread love this Christmas, or at any time of year. (more…)
A little while back I watched a video (after the jump) that completely changed the way I think about rejection and failure. Marie Forleo was interviewing actress Bryce Howard and Howard told the story of her grandmother's advice to her when she started her acting career. Her grandmother said that most working actors will go on an average of 64 auditions before booking a job. 64! That number is even higher for people who are just starting out or are returning to the industry after a break.
When Howard started auditioning she said, "I started counting. And I promised myself I wouldn't get upset if I didn't book something before 64 because that would be deluded thinking."
Everyone always says that it's hard to make a living in the arts. And it's true. The odds are against actors and artists and musicians because there are so few jobs and so many of us who want to have a go at it. But this interview showed me that making it in the arts isn't necessarily about luck or being more special than everyone else who's trying: it's about sticking with it through the countless rejections until someone is willing to hire you or pay you. Most actors give up long before they hit that 64 audition mark so if you're willing to keep trying when everyone else has quit, your odds will improve. (more…)
With the holiday season descending, it's easy to start feeling overwhelmed by everything going on. With the sparse daylight at this time of year, it often seems like my days are compressing and I feel tight and rigid rather than open and free. I start to feel ruled by the calendar, thinking constantly about what needs to be done and what event is coming up, rather than appreciating the moments as they come and go.
It's not just at this time of year either. I generally tend towards feeling constricted - by time, by anxiety and fear, by my abilities, by my beliefs, by what's in my bank account. I used to think that I could avoid this feeling by doing less - by clearing my calendar and hoarding my money and time. But that just left me feeling empty and sad.
I've since realized that space is a mindset, and a choice. All the pressure, heaviness and constriction is in my head. I get to decide how I feel and I've decided I want to live a life that's full to bursting, while still staying open and finding ways to expand.
If you're feeling constrained and need some space in your life, here are some things that tend to help me open up:
People often ask me if I studied medicine or biology when they see my work. And though I've never actually taken a biology class (I was more into physics in high school and university) I'm finding myself more and more interested in it. I was inspired to make these sculptures by the paper mache models I saw in the Mutter Museum of Medical History in Philadelphia, and spend a lot of time looking at anatomical diagrams and imagery.
I'm still interested in physics and other sciences and get a huge kick out of art that is inspired by science. Maybe I'm too nerdy for my own good, but work like this gets my neurons firing like crazy with ideas and connections.
Here are some more artists that draw on the sciences for their amazing work: (more…)