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…)
Looking my fears in the face - this trestle bridge in BC taught me a lot about courage
A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was in the process of making a big decision. This decision has been brewing for a few months, even a few years. Earlier this year I started to realize that I was playing things too safe and being too timid. I had big dreams but wasn't taking the steps I needed to realize them. I thought about times in my life when I had taken drastic steps and how much that boldness changed me and spurred me on.
For example, when I got home from ten months of traveling, I felt like I could do anything. I had:
- learned a new language, without taking a single formal lesson and went from barely understanding the basics to near fluency
- navigated alone across five countries and 11827 km travelled by bus
- found four indigenous weaving teachers and learned incredibly complex weaving techniques, which most women start learning as small children
- avoided being robbed or attacked in a region where most people would say such things are unavoidable
- did what the locals did - taking minibuses instead of cabs and eating at the market instead of in restaurants
- talked to countless strangers, made friends easily, and developed meaningful, lasting relationships (last summer I went to the wedding of a Columbian friend I had met in Peru)
I felt like I grew up ten years in ten months and felt a sense of confidence and trust in myself that I had never experienced before. I had seen what I was capable of. (more…)
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 first met Andrea when she was a fellow vendor at the Royal Bison market, and later started taking belly dance classes with her. Her passion as a dancer has been a huge inspiration in my own dance journey, her soulful approach to living warms my heart, and I look up to her success as a creative entrepreneur - she's killing it here in Edmonton.
What sort of creative work do you do?
I am a Belly Dance teacher and performer. For many years I taught weekly classes and danced in Greek restaurants and Lebanese night clubs. Recently I have shifted my focus and only teach workshops or private classes and perform only for events like engagements/weddings/birthdays etc.
I also created a performance piece called "Fortune Writer" in which people ask a question or suggest a topic and I generate a unique fortune for them on my typewriter. (more…)
“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…)
It 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…)
This 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 July, Nick Bantock, Jim Hensen, Lisa Congdon, Amanda 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?
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…)
Walking 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…)
I 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…)