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A Creative's Guide to Surviving the Trump Presidency

I'm angry about the election. Not just because my candidate didn't win, but because millions of people looked racism, misogyny, and mean-spiritedness square in the face and said, "Yes, please, let's have some more of that."

This past week has been a rollercoaster of emotions. The last 8 days have taken not only an emotional toll, but also a spiritual and physical one as well. I believe I passed through all the stages of grief at least twice, including - briefly - acceptance. Then I watched this and read this and experienced my first moment of clarity since Hillary gave her concession speech.

We can't accept and normalize what has happened. Ever. This causes a bit of a cognitive disconnect for me since "normalizing" is the one of the key pillars of the creativity coaching philosophy I practice. It's what we do. We normalize all the crazy-making parts of the creative process so our clients don't feel so alone and can overcome blocks to get to their creative work.

But, this is not normal. We cannot accept this. We can't move to Canada (we're not geese) - we have to stay and fight. We can normalize the grief, the need to do "something", the fear, but not a world where a bigot can be president.

But what does that mean for us - the artists, the writers, the poets, the creatives?

By last Wednesday some of the initial shock wore off and I found myself feeling surprisingly empowered. I had this great sense that important work needing doing, that my artwork and creativity would somehow be a part of it, and that all the filters were just turned off. I had this amazing sense of freedom as my last vestiges of self-consciousness over expressing my most heartfelt thoughts and feelings fell away. I had work to do. But what? What does my art matter at a time like this? How can creativity help?

Well, I've put together this guide to answer just that question:

1. This is NOT Normal
This cannot be overstated. Do not become complacent. As John Oliver said put it on a post-it note to remind yourself if you have to.

2. You Have Permission to Feel Contradictory Feelings at the Same Time
It is important to understand that it is possible to hold two opposing thoughts or feelings in your mind or heart at the same time. You can be disgusted, yet find joy and beauty in the world around you. You can be grief-stricken about this place we've come to, but feel tremendous optimism about this being a catalyst for positive change. You can be outraged and motivated to work to make changes, while at the same time seeking comfort and nurturing your spirit.

And finding the balance between these opposing ideas will be the way we creatives and highly-sensitive people will survive the next four years.

3. I'm Not an Activist. What Should I Do?
I asked an activist friend of mine recently, "What do we do now?" Her answer was protests, petitions, helping vulnerable groups in our society. I've been added to a lot of activist Facebook groups where people are fired up and yelling and trying to organize and planning protests.

But I just don't see myself at a protest. I'm an introverted HSP who really can't deal with crowds. I've also never been someone in the spotlight. I've always been more of a behind-the-scenes, singing-in-the-chorus type of person. So I will likely fight this fight quietly (or maybe not so quietly) behind-the-scenes. I will support your protests, but when you are tired of fighting I will be there to offer you a cup of tea and some comfort. I'll be there to remind you to take care of yourself and nurture your spirit, because if you lose your soul in this fight, it won't have been worth it.

I will also be making artwork. Some of it will be funny, some will be poignant; some will be beautiful and some of it will be ugly. I might even make political art, but I'm not making any promises. And the point is my art doesn't have to be overtly political to matter. By contributing my heart and self-expression to the world, I'm making a difference.

4. Practice Self-Care
This is important for everyone. It is especially important for those of us who absorb negativity and/or have a tendency toward depression. We need to take time out to stay physically, spiritually and emotionally healthy - breathe, meditate, make art, exercise, eat well, seek comfort.

Walking outside is one of my favorite ways to destress and I highly recommend it. Not just because the clock on climate-change legislation is likely to be set back a decade and the natural world as we know is going to suffer as a result. But because walking outside, clears the mind, changes your visual focus and rests your eyes, and helps engage your creativity.

5. Pay Attention and Stay Informed
Do NOT, however, hide, avoid the news, or decide this is someone else's fight (see #1). You must stay informed by a reliable news source that still employs the rules of journalistic integrity and reports the news without bias or agenda. (NewYork Times, Washington Post, etc) It is easy to say it is too overwhelming and simply avoid it all. But if you don't pay attention you risk being lulled into feeling complacent. (Again, see #1). Paying attention is also great for your creativity. It isn't all bad out there in the world, and paying attention allows us to not just stay informed, but also makes us receptive to inspiration.

6. What About My Kids?
Parenting our way through the next four years will depend on your child's age. Obviously, for very young children we want to assure them the world is still a relatively safe space and not inflict our anxiety on them. But for older childen and teens? They should be aware of what is going on in terms they can understand and at the very least be reminded that kindness matters and bullying shouldn't be accepted, that they should stand up against it if they see it happening.

Our son is 13. He is going to be eligible to vote in five short years and will be a young adult in the direct aftermath (or - G-d forbid - second term) of Trump's presidency. We aren't sugar-coating what is going on. He has full access to the same news we read and to all of our outrage. And he is fired up - he wants to volunteer for a social justice or environmental group this summer if he can find one that will take him. And I couldn't be prouder.

7. Seek Human Connection Offline
This election was won on social media, through the repetition of opinion or flat-out lies parading as facts. As an introvert I need a lot of time to myself and often default to using social media as my main method of socializing. I plan to make an effort to seek out more human interaction in the 3D world. Whether this means finding creative groups or holding more dinners with friends, I'm not sure. But I do know that the fact that I was able to say I never actual spoke face to face with a Trump supporter is not a good thing. I want to find comfort within in-person interaction with my tribe, but I also want to put myself in situations where I get the chance to practice kindness and civility toward someone with an opposing viewpoint even if I will never agree with them or change their mind.

8. What Are You Holding Back
Whatever your creative gifts are, now is not the time to hold them back from the world. We need them. Don't worry about trying to figure out why they are important. Just know that now, more than ever, we need them.

9. Crap! There's a Lot to Do. I'm Completely Overwhelmed!
Yes. There is a lot to do. But it doesn't have to be done all at once by any of us alone. Another principle of our Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching philosophy that is completely helpful here is small steps. Think of your newly-minted outrage and motivation like a New Year's resolution. These often fail by February because people have too high expectations, thinking they can flip a switch and bring about immediate change. It never works. You will need to ask yourself "What small step can I take right now, for 5 minutes, that will help?" Then go from there, building momentum.

10. Damn, I Really Wanted There to Be 10 Things
But, there aren't. So I'm going to leave you here and go follow my own advice on self-care and go make a cup of tea and hug my family.

Art Retreat in Asheville

If you spend any time on the internet, especially if you own or are starting a small business, you can’t spit without reading plenty of advice about making your dreams come true. There are articles and courses and academies (oh my!) and they all want us to make our BIG dreams come true. (What about the small ones?)
I felt bad for a long time because I didn’t really have any dreams. Not any concrete ones, anyway. I felt sure if I had some I could make them come true, but since I didn’t I would be stuck in a life of drudgery and boredom, dream-free, tethered to the earth, unable to fly.
Until a couple of years ago.
I became obsessed with the idea that I needed to go to an art retreat. Instead, I went to Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching training. Best creative decision I’d made in 20 years. It was like gaining the tools to make every day feel like an art retreat.
But still, the last two summers I kept saying I wanted to go to an art retreat. I knew this was outside our budget if we were going to take a family vacation…ever. We’d had a tough couple of years and our family really needed to get away – there was no way I could justify spending the money for an art retreat on just myself. We needed a real family vacation – not a weekend with relatives, not a trip away for a family emergency or funeral, not time off for a Jewish holiday.
So I put in for time off work for a couple of weeks this summer. And did nothing else about it until the beginning of July. We suddenly realized our vacation was quickly approaching and we had no plans or reservations. We needed to go somewhere within a days’ drive, and since we had talked about visiting Colonial Williamsburg, I started researching hotels there. But I hate hotels. I hate the smell, the stale air, the noisy air conditioning…and don’t even get me started on the possibility of bedbugs (yeech!). I was becoming increasingly more miserable and distressed trying to plan this vacation. Stomach aches, trouble sleeping, sense of dread all day long. Not fun at all.
In the midst of this vacation planning slog, I created the journal page at the top of this post. I scribbled my aggravation all over the page, covered most of it with gesso so I didn’t have to read the negativity again and pasted (seemingly) random images on top. And, of course, asked the small question, “How can I make planning a vacation more fun?”
When I finished, I realized I had created the exact feeling I wanted to have while on vacation: woodsy, cottagy, soothing, calm, effortless floating through greenery. Also, my gut was telling me I was unlikely to find that feeling in Colonial Williamsburg in the middle of July.
I had always wanted to visit Asheville, North Carolina – specifically to go to an art retreat, since it seemed to be the art retreat capital of the East Coast – so I started researching reservations there. I was still dithering and still had no reservation, when I learned about Airbnb. If you aren’t familiar, it is a way for people who need places to stay to find people with rooms or whole apartments to rent out.
Lo and behold, the first listing I found was a beautiful apartment in a couple’s house and one of the hosts was an artist – who offered art retreats with a discount for their Airbnb guests!

It seemed like the perfect solution - such synchronicity! It turned out Lynn, the artist, taught encaustic workshops with a discount for people staying at their Airbnb. Encaustic, a method of painting with hot beeswax mixed with resin and pigment, was not a technique I was familiar with or had ever even considered learning about. But it just seemed like the universe was giving me a shove in the direction of a new adventure, so I went with it.

The apartment ended up being exactly what I was looking for (my family was happy too, but they aren't as picky or invested in these things and pretty much are happy just going away somewhere). These pictures from our trip feel very similar to my journal page to me and here are some pictures that look even more like it.
Blue Ridge Mountains

View from the porch

And the encaustic workshop was amazing! It was 5 hours alone with a professional artist in her studio, working on 2 12x12 boards. It turned out encaustic was the medium I was searching for all my life and just didn't know it.

The ability to layer and scratch and embed other objects allowed me to do some things I had been trying to do for the past year in my paintings.
I'm usually very scared of any dangerous supplies or processes - like the blowtorch used to melt and seal each layer - but it didn't take very long to not only get used to using it, but feel a certain sense of power blowing fire around (very carefully, of course).

The whole experience was transformational. I wish I could say I went home and started working with encaustic, but between trying to create adequate ventilation and affording a whole new set of supplies, it just wasn't something I could afford. However, I definitely began carrying some of what I learned over into my painting style. Even if I hadn't, just the experience in the studio for the day - having another artist to talk to, having that much time to make art at one time, learning a new technique - it was worth every penny.
Encaustic experiment #1 - 12x12

Encaustic experiment #2 - 12x12

Intuitive Painting and Discoveries in the Studio

There's been a lot going on lately in my art studio.

That's right. I have an art studio! {swoon}

For years, if I ever actually stopped procrastinating long enough to make some art, I would have to tear apart a poorly organized cupboard to find the right supplies (or worse - make a trip to the dreaded basement if what I was looking for never made it upstairs), then go work at the diningroom table or on our bed. FYI, watercolor, glue and glitter in the bed do not make for a happy hubby.
But, now, finally our spare bedroom is an art studio. Sure it still has my husband's clothes in it, and there are still water stains on the ceiling from before we replaced the roof this winter, and it isn't as cute as I always dreamed of, and the light stinks. But who cares?! My supplies are all organized so I can find them, my art books, journals and sketchbooks are within arms reach of my desk, there's room for my easel, and I can go in and close the door and make art whenever I want to. And I have been. A lot.
I've been really into mixed media collage, art journalling, and intuitive painting lately. Whenever I'm in the studio I'm either working on an actual project or getting something ready - cutting out collage images, painting backgrounds for journal pages, or even watching some of the great videos and interviews out there from intuitive painters. It's nice to be able to have three or four projects going at once - because I'm working on all of them, not putting off working on all them.
I've made two - no make that three - important discoveries over the past few weeks by working this way.

#1 - Having small tasks ready to occupy my hands keeps fear at bay.

By having several projects going at once - and more importantly - by having some mindless prep work that doesn't require a lot of energy or decisions, I have lots of ways to bypass any fear that may come up. This is especially a problem when I have other obligations I have to deal with and can't get to my creative calling until later in the day or evening. Then when I finally get into the studio I can feel that fear and resistance bubbling up and the old tapes start playing in my head: "Actually maybe I'm too tired now. I don't know what to work on. etc, etc, etc."
But by having something fairly simple like cutting out magazine pictures, or just slathering some paint in my journal without worrying when or what I may write on that page, I have something I can quickly get my hands doing. And that stops the tapes and lets me either just relax or my intuition and imagination kick in. Then, sometimes, before I know it, I'm not just cutting out pictures, but I've got the glue out and glued them to a page, or I have started writing in the journal too.
I really don't need to know what I'm going to work on at all. If I have no idea, I might just sit down at my desk and take out a book with project ideas or creative prompts and start leafing through. That might be all I do that day, or it may kickstart something new, or even prompt me to finish an old project. A few weeks ago I started thumbing through one of my books of project ideas. Seconds later our 11 year old son came in and started hokking me about going to the bookstore. I convinced him to help me make some air-dry clay appliques for a wooden box I had from years ago, based on one of the projects in the book, and then I'd take him. While we were at the bookstore I looked through several inspiring collage books (that are now on my wishlist), and when I came home I finished a mixed media cake collage that I'd started in March 2014. Wouldn't have guessed that was where I'd end up that day, but even though I didn't know what art was going to happen, the fear didn't get me.

#2 - Anticipating getting to my artwork is almost as fulfilling as doing the work itself.

In Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching we call this "Creative Foreplay" - thinking about your creativity to the point of being able to sense how a brush would feel in your hand or the smell of the paint. Or going on a quest for a video to learn a new technique, or just getting your supplies ready. It's a tool we use to help people get past - you guessed it - fear and procrastination - and frankly I've only used it once (or thought I had) and that was for an assignment during my coaching training. But, in fact, I do this all the time already.
For the past few weeks I've been devouring everything on the internet I can find about intuitive painting - watching videos, listening to podcasts, gathering supplies. In my mind I was already there painting - the actual painting was almost beside the point.
Almost. It was pretty awesome to actually paint too. Which brings me to the third discovery.

#3 - This one is my favorite.

The other 2 weren't a total surprise because they tied in with coaching tools - it was just neat to see them in action. But this #3 - totally new and totally delightful.
On Sunday, after all the reading and video-watching I finally started and finished a painting using this intuitive process I'd been reading about. I wasn't sure I loved the painting, but it didn't matter - it was about the process. But then I decided I did really like it. I posted it on facebook, and showed it to some people at work. And then I left it up on the easel and I've just been admiring and enjoying it all week.
I realized I actually do this a lot. Pretty much every time I finish a piece I like. I savor it and admire it for a few days. I discovered it is part of my creative process.
Anicipation, Action, Admiration. That about sums it up.

Random Conversations From My Brains

Do you predominantly use your "right-brain*" or "left-brain*?" Are you more logical and analytical or creative and intuitive?
Do the different sides of your brain talk to each other?
Mine do. And some of the stuff they say is pretty crazy.
Left Brain: Hey Right Brain! You're dragging me down.
Right Brain: How can I be dragging you down? I'm flying over a meadow in the South of France. And call me Tallelulah. My name is Tallelulah.
LB: Listen Tallelulah, it's January and we need to do some organizing.
RB: Organizing?! Boring! Besides I've got stuff to do.
LB: What stuff?
RB: Rainbow. Cartoon. hAHAHAHa.Butterfly. Red. :::::::&888 Circle. Blue. oooh painting.
LB: Dude, that doesn't make any sense. Some of that was just random shapes and colors. What am I supposed to do with that? We need a system to
RB: Ooooh Yes! A system! We'll design one from scratch and make it all pretty with our own drawings and everything will be color-coded...
LB: Like that notebook you use to write down ideas? The really pretty one with the color-coded dividers that you never assigned what the sections mean? So you just randomly write in any section, in any order, and then ask me to find your ideas for you and I can't because it makes no sense. 1, a, b, 2, a, b, c, 3, a, b c...
RB: Stop indexing things while your talking to me.
LB: I'm just afraid we won't be ready for
RB: Gah! Don't say [afraid]! Ssssh. You'll wake him!
LB: Sorry. We need to get ready for doing the taxes. And work on the budget.
RB: Ssssh!!! Jeez, don't say the "B" word. If General Amygdala hears you talking about that finance thingy he'll mobilize the troops and we'll end up under the covers eating ice cream all day and nothing will get done!
LB: Can we at least work on the schedule for the month? I'll let you write things on the calendar.
RB: Schedule? We'll just do whatever feels right. It'll be fine.
LB: I'll let you write in colored marker...
RB: No! Let's design our own calendar with our own drawings and a planner too that has
LB: The logical compromise would be to go to Staples and buy a prettier calendar.
RB: Yay! Let's go. Hey this is a funny conversation. Apple. Bing! Spruce. Summer. Cold. mmmm smell. Let's write a blog post about it and a cartoon to go with it...
LB: Oy. G'night. I'm just going to sit over here and atrophy for the winter.
* BTW, the whole idea as we know it of right brain or left brain thinking is probably not accurate. But it's fun to think of the 2 sides of my brain as 2 lovable scamps who just can't work together.

Finding Strength with Kaizen-Muse Coaching Tools

"Where have you been?" you might ask.
"You started off so strong, ready to build a creativity business. You were so excited, and then -- Poof! You disappeared."
I'd like to be able to tell you I ran off and joined the circus. Or I was so busy making art I forgot to do anything else. Or anything that sounds vaguely interesting or adventurous.
But the truth was I was busy having an extremely difficult year.
In August 2013 when I signed up for Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching training, I thought maybe I'd end up with the skills for a sideline business. Hopefully, I'd learn how to jumpstart my own creativity. I didn't realize I was going to be learning tools that would help me survive a year filled with life stressors.
At the same time I was studying to be a creativity coach, our son was developing an obscure chronic illness, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). He would end up missing 4 months of the 4th grade followed by spotty attendance, chronic pain, and the deterioration of his emotional well-being.
As we rang in 2014, I was working from home, isolated, stressed, and frustrated that nothing we were doing seemed to be helping our son.
But having just finished the KMCC training and studying for the certification, all of the coaching tools we learned were front and center in my mind. So I used them. Not just for coaching clients, not just for getting past my own coaching blocks, but for everything.
  • Every day, several times a day I asked myself, "How can I make this easier?" (The answer almost always involved ignoring some form of housework. Don't ask how long it was before the bathroom got cleaned.)
  • When our son was crying from pain and frustration, I eventually stopped trying to suggest things to make him feel better and started asking, "What do you think might help?" He'd calm down and often he'd have a suggestion.
  • When my heart was breaking because there was nothing I could do to make him feel better, and feeling guilty for accidentally enjoying myself, I reframed my harsh self-talk and started telling myself that still finding joy in life even though my son was sick didn't make me a bad mother.
  • I hunkered down with "Muse Song" - muse of nurturing and self-care and "Lull," muse of taking a break (From Jill Badonsky's book "The Nine Modern Day Muses (and a Bodyguard)") and cut my work schedule to 3 days a week for the month of March. I spent Mondays and Fridays having artist's dates and drinking green smoothies, and generally getting out of my house so I didn't lose my mind.
  • lowered my expectations. So low they were practically non-existent. I didn't expect to accomplish much and gave myself credit for the smallest things - getting dressed, taking a shower, getting through the day.
  • Small steps were the only way I could get anything done, especially since I couldn't concentrate for more than 15 - 20 minutes at a time.
All through this, I studied for my certification exam, and in early April became a Certified Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coach! This exciting development gave me little boost and I made some small inroads in building my coaching practice.
But the Universe had other plans.
My 92 year-old father, living independently in Florida, started to deteriorate and it became clear he would finally need to move to an assisted living facility. Before we could make that happen he ended up in the hospital and the plan changed to moving him to a nursing home. After years of trying to get him to move closer, he finally agreed to move near us to be in a home we knew and trusted. While I wasn't happy that he was unwell, I was overjoyed that he would be nearby, and our son, who couldn't possibly fly to see him, would finally be able to visit him on a regular basis.
Sadly, before any of that could happen, he passed away.
Needless to say, I was gutted.
My siblings and I had all gotten to see him in the 2 weeks he was in the hospital, but I hadn't taken my son with me, even though he begged to go. And none of us were with my Dad when he died. The guilt was unbearable.
But I still needed to function, so back to my Kaizen-Muse toolbox I went.
  • I tried to believe for a few minutes each day that I had done enough. That even though my son couldn't be there, his Grandpa knew how much he loved him and vice versa. That even though I couldn't be there at the very end, I had told my Dad how much I loved him, and he was able to tell me he loved me while he could still talk.
  • I embraced the Shadow Muse and drew dark and grief-filled images in my journal.
  • I reminded myself this was all normal. Just like the creative process, there is no map or guidebook to get us through the grieving process. There would be good and bad days and no prescribed end-date.
  • I asked myself what worked in the past? Having lost my mother 12 years ago, I knew that following the Jewish rituals of mourning had been a great comfort and would be again.
  • I tried to reframe some of my grief and guilt as gratitude - for my father living to be 92, for getting the opportunity to know him better in the years after my mother died, for having him in my son's life, and for having the chance to say goodbye to him.
Thankfully, things eventually started to improve.
In July we went to Florida and cleaned out my father's apartment. Though I was dreading this, it was surprisingly healing. He had boxes and boxes of family photos that we got to look through. I took home many of them along with his portfolio and art supplies.
Then in August, almost exactly a year after he became sick, our son got better! He still needs medication, but his symptoms have all but disappeared and he is back to his old cheerful self. The gratitude never gets old.
This year, as we celebrated the beginning of 2015, there was joy and laughter in our house. We visited with friends and cleared away the last painful reminders of 2014's troubles.
In the past, when things have been even half as difficult as this past year, I've ended up depressed and on medication. However, I truly believe the coaching tools I was able to call on helped me stay off anti-depressants and though I wouldn't want to repeat any of it, I feel stronger for having been able to make it through this year.
Here's to a new year filled with good health, joy, and lightness!

From Perfection to Confection

Cake drawing and painting
During my training as a Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coach, we were required to work on a creativity project. This was an open-ended learning experience designed to allow us to use the tools we were learning. There was no deadline or specific assignments other than to occasionally comment on how the experience was going or answer questions about it. The product was not the point. It was all about taking small steps, enjoying the creative process, and being able to maintain our own creative practice while coaching others on theirs.

When I started this program I was so completely stuck, I had barely done any artwork for the last 25 years since art school. There were the occasional gifts I made for family members, and a series of beaded necklaces I completed thanks to being on bed rest during a complicated pregnancy. But for the most part all I had were multiple sketchbooks overflowing with ideas to someday implement. Problem was I had no idea how to get from idea to finished product – no idea how to implement any of my ideas (this is especially hilarious if you know that my full-time job as a web designer is as a member of our company’s “implementation team”).

This was my mindset when we were asked what ideas we had come up with for our creativity project. I immediately scanned my sketchbooks and listed a bunch of projects I had been meaning to work on – a pendant, a children’s book, a collage that incorporates some plastic junk I had stashed away to use someday (just so you know, I am helpless to resist stashing away interesting pieces of plastic junk and containers to use “someday”). I was just excited I was finally going to get some help finishing starting these projects I’d been kicking around for years.

A funny thing happened, though, before I could even start sorting out my list of old ideas.

As we learned about the blocks creative people encounter and how to get past them, I started absorbing the lessons we were learning into my every day life. I discovered I had serious issues with perfectionism. Paralyzing fear of every piece of art not coming out perfectly, prevented me from ever starting. Or if I did start, and I liked where my work was going, the process became increasingly anxiety-ridden because the more I liked it, the more there was a chance of screwing it up before I finished.

As we learned about taking small steps – 5 minutes at a time if necessary, and lowering expectations – starting out “small and crappy” or doing intentionally bad work to get past the perfectionist fear, I found myself drawing a little bit every day and really enjoying myself. At night when I’d normally just sit down to watch TV I’d think, maybe I could just doodle for a few minutes. I might think, nah, I’m tired, but then I’d decide on just 5 minutes and set to work. Two hours later I’d still be doodling and coloring.

One the doodles I did was a very tall, lopsided cake on a strip of cardstock intended as a bookmark. I realized that I had so much fun drawing it, I could draw it over and over without getting tired of it.

So I did.

I kept drawing that topsy-turvy cake until I realized I wanted to draw it bigger. So I drew it with a little girl staring up at it (top left image). And I loved how it came out! Suddenly it looked like a page from a children’s book and I was curious what was going to happen next.

Curiosity and wonder about your own work is always a delicious feeling.

It also occurred to me that my past ideas for children’s books (I have buckets of them floating around) never went anywhere because I always wrote the text and got stuck trying to illustrate them. I wondered, “What would happen if I just drew pictures I enjoyed and waited to see what story emerged?”

This new mindset was very encouraging. Unfortunately, only days after starting to look at things differently, old patterns took hold. I got caught up in the idea of churning out more drawings of the little girl in the picture, feeling certain she was the main character in this book I was now working on (because obviously if it could be a book, it had to be book).

It stopped being fun pretty quickly after that.

Luckily, a coaching session with my student coach (we were each assigned a student client and a student coach to practice with) brought me back to the memory of the fun I first had just drawing my cakes. I stuck my original bookmark up on my mirror as a visible reminder of where the fun had started and decided to just go back to doodling – I’m going to keep it small, I remember telling her.

And again – a surprise. I removed all expectations and found myself painting a much larger cake on canvas (top right image). I didn’t plan it or think about it. Just had an afternoon off and decided to paint.

I started it on Thanksgiving and worked on it a few minutes at a time, sometimes only every two weeks or so, until the end of February. I made huge mistakes and realized I could either fix them or I couldn’t. Maybe the painting would be ruined, but I’d still survive to paint another (they always were fixable). I also didn’t give up, as the pile of unfinished projects strewn about our house would suggest might be the likely outcome.

At the end I had one last decision to make. I knew I was just about done and felt like it could be the biggest mistake and would ruin the painting, or would be the finishing touch and I’d be done. I agonized briefly, summoned every ounce of audacity and nonchalance available, and went for it.

I outlined the whole thing in a heavy, cartoony, marker line and signed my name. It didn’t matter if it was good. The point was it had been fun, it was the product of lowered expectations and small steps, and after 25 years I had completed a painting again!

The truth was I did really like how it came out.

But I think the lessons I learned during the process were far more rewarding. Unrealistic expectations suck the fun out of being creative and make it feel like work. Small steps get you started, help get you unstuck, and move you past fear caused by perfectionistic thinking. And best of all, happy surprises, moments of pure joy, and wonder can be found in the creative process, if we embrace our mistakes, allow detours to happen, and avoid worrying too much about what the end result is going to be.

A Place That Always Exists