How long has it been since I’ve written a “timeout for art?” A month? Maybe two? See, I want to pause now, in what I’m doing, and look up that information. Then, once I had the facts, I’d have to rewrite what I just wrote, taking away any question. I’m going to try not to do that. It has been a while, let’s go with that.
I know that in the last timeout for art, I laid out plans to work my way through the alphabet. A was for Abstract, and I did a little blog about that. And then I got sidetracked. I had made a list: one art topic for every letter of the alphabet. Most of them related directly to my art, or some art practice that I know something about. When I got stuck at the more difficult letters, I consulted a little dictionary of art terms. X and Z were a bit of a stretch, if I remember correctly, but I had them all, A to Z.
I wrote the list down in the beautiful notebook with soft pages and rose-colored suede cover that my sister, Robin, gave me. For the last several weeks, I have not been able to find that notebook. Recreating the list has not been possible, because I not only cannot remember almost anything that was on it, I also cannot find the little dictionary of art terms. I have a feeling that both the notebook and the dictionary are buried somewhere in the massive stack of books in the corner of my living room.
Yes, I still have a mound of books stacked in the corner. Still! A month after the collapse of my bookshelves! Over the course of the last month, I have bought longer screws for the shelf supports. I purchased a new battery operated screw driver when the one I owned would no longer take a charge. With step stool, line level and all the patience I could muster, I managed to get one vertical support in place. That’s one of five.
In my defense, I am now working six days a week. Plus trying to coordinate times to record my radio show. I’ve been doing quite a bit of Emailing back and forth to finalize plans for an art show next year. And it’s summer. The dogs need their walks; the garden needs attention; the blackberries are ripening. Tonight, as I write this, I have a big kettle full of tomatoes simmering on the stove, and I’m so tired, I can barely keep my eyes open.
I wanted to write, though, about a book I just finished, that gives me hope. Perhaps you’ve noticed a pattern in the last few paragraphs. I am easily distracted from any task at hand. I give almost everything equal attention, whether it is a big, possibly life-changing event, or a minute detail. I have a dozen or more balls in the air at once. This combination results in constant frustration at myself. I seem to be always behind, and always neglecting the most important things.
It turns out, I am not alone! Jessica Abel is a writer, cartoonist, teacher, and graphic artist. She is also a blogger, pod-caster and workshop organizer. Oh, and a wife, and a mother of young children. And she just recently moved back to the United States from France. And wrote a book!
The book is Growing Gills: How to find creative focus when you’re drowning in daily life. It breaks down all the tendencies that get in the way of forward movement, then step-by-step forges a pathway through the chaos. It makes so much sense! For instance, she writes:
“Every choice you make, every time you prioritize one thing over another, there are corresponding sacrifices you make. Sometimes the trade-offs are financial, emotional or relational. Whether you are willing to address these trade-off or not is beside the point. They exist.”
She goes on to say that the real problem comes when you don’t decide, and let whatever happens, happen. She advocates choosing one creative endeavor at a time to actively work on. “Too many projects = no projects.”
The book includes lots of worksheets and tasks to help identify, sort, weed out, and/or bring to satisfactory conclusion every single item on the “Idea Debt” list. I read this book over the course of the last six weeks. I didn’t do all of the worksheets; I did take copious notes. Instead of immediately starting another book, as I usually do, I’m reviewing the notes and other materials.
I’ve never been very good at book reviews. I do a lot of gushing over books I like, and complain about the ones that disappoint me, but I’m not good at articulating the reasons why. I loved this book! I found it to be helpful…maybe life-changing-ly so. If your life seems chaotic and you feel like creative pursuits are falling by the wayside, you might find it helpful, too.