Calling all moms who are looking for simplicity, clarity, peace of mind and creativity:
My new book is available for preorder on Amazon. I can hardly wait to share it with you!
We did not mean to be away so long, but we are glad you are here! This spring we have a new title and a fresh perspective- on creativity, motherhood, and life in general. We’ve got projects in the works too; I have a book coming out this fall titled The Uncluttered Mother (more on this soon!) and Brittni is working on a children’s book (more from her later!)
I’ve got some creative goals and projects in the works, and my 55th birthday is bearing down on me, so I’ve been doing a conscious clean sweep of all the things I no longer want to give time or energy to.
Here is my list of What I No Longer Have Time For:
Procrastination (“Do it, don’t deny it” is a phrase my husband coined many years ago when teaching our youngest daughter to be consistent in brushing and flossing her teeth every night. After that, it became our household catch-all when faced with any less-than-thrilling task.)
Foods (and drinks) that don’t fuel me
Disempowering thoughts (seriously, our thoughts will make or break us)
And here is my list of What I Do Have Time For:
Creative Goals (and the bold action they require, but more often the small, consistent steps)
Believing in & encouraging others
What about you? What are you giving your precious time and energy to this spring? I hope those choices reveal how amazing you really are.
In the midst of a pandemic I get my first book contract and let the cognitive dissonance settle in. I am elated! It is meaningless! By the time the book is published, will the words I’ve written even matter? In a world full of sickness and chaos, is art even relevant?
My husband and I go away to celebrate our 33rd anniversary. He is reluctant in these times, but I’ve found us a private spot on Cape Cod, we pack a bag, some food, and we go. On the drive down I am describing the adorable guest house I have secured for us. I am happy to escape the everydayness of our lives, the news, the impertinence of my writing. It is called the Sweetest Little Suite, I tell him.
It has probably been renamed The Covid Cabin, he quips.
Don’t make me laugh, I say. There is nowhere to pee.
I know the state of the country, the world for God’s sake, is not funny right now. It is dark and uncertain, but we need to laugh when we can because the crying will come too, if not for ourselves, for others.
It is freakishly warm for the middle of November, but we don’t see anyone else at the seashore except for maybe a few people sitting so far down the beach they are like large grains of sand, their movement almost imperceptible.
It starts off as a dare, me tempting my husband to jump into the crashing waves, and it ends with both of us running into the ocean, going under. He disappears first and when he pops up he is shouting for me to hurry before the next wave drags me violently across the sand. Shrieking, I dive in, my timing more a reflex of panic than any kind of strategy.
When you’ve been married this long, there aren’t many firsts you haven’t met; first home, first child, first move, job loss, illness. We’ve had them all. But this- today- swimming in the ocean in the middle of fall- for our November anniversary- this is a new first.
I emerge from the cold, invigorated. The sun warms my skin as it creates glitter across the water. The reflection is spectacular; there is so much light. I am insignificant, but at the same time connected to the brilliance of God’s creativity.
Fully present, mind and body in harmony, I take it all in. I see and feel the ocean, the world, as the most amazing work of art.
In this moment, the art is everything.
Another night like this, suddenly wide awake. I don’t exactly feel panicked, my heart is not racing, but I am on high alert. What I am waiting for, I am not sure.
I’ve done all the things: no coffee after 10am. No wine. No electronics in the bedroom. Exercise. Mediation even. Yet most nights it is the same lately. I can predict before opening my eyes that the clock will read 1:30a.m. Sometimes 1:20.
My husband reaches out and touches my leg. He is letting me know he is awake now too. Was I tossing and turning? A middle of the night rendezvous; I resist the urge to speak. He will fall back asleep and there is nothing specific to say, to be anxious about. Well there is, actually. I mean the whole world is anxious now. Shouldn’t it be? I run through my list. Who shall I focus on this night? Family? The country? Humanity?
I do my yogic breathing. I decide not to waste this time on trying to assign a subject to my insomnia. Instead, I grab a pillow and notebook and go downstairs to settle on the couch. I may as well write something. Nothing will interrupt me at this hour, nothing outside my own head. The world is asleep, even as it is falling apart.
Not even my to-do list is calling me now. Phone calls to make, writing deadlines, laundry to do. Those are the affairs of daylight and I won’t engage such thoughts. I’ve been invited, against my wishes, but I’m here nonetheless, to do whatever I want in this dark hour. I figure something will happen if I put pen to paper, something to loosen this grip around my heart that is alerting me to I’m -not- sure- what. I am ready, so ready for whatever is going to happen, even if it is only on the page.
The windows are shut down here and I’m too tired to get up and open them, too busy writing. I am hot as hell now. My hair is getting long – I am not yet ready to venture into a hair salon, even with all the precautions in place. I’ve been snipping the ends of my unruly hair, one curl at a time, with the professional scissors I bought online. I pull it up on top of my head with the elastic around my wrist.
I’m so hot and so tired, I’m starting to feel nauseous. Tomorrow- which is today, technically- I will see what I’ve written, and if there’s anything worth saving.
I hear my husband upstairs, stirring. He is in the cool air-conditioned room and all of it is suddenly calling me now- the cool room, the soft bed, the husband.
I put down my pen and notebook and leave them on the couch next to the pillow. I will be back tomorrow night, same time, same place.
This essay was originally published on Brevity’s nonfiction blog: via Writing Through Insomnia
It is no accident that I am writing about the challenge of carving out a creative life when it’s been about six months since I’ve written anything here.
Why is it so challenging to carve out a creative life that stays consistent?
Allow me to state the obvious: Creative projects are often solo pursuits in which we have to give ourselves permission, accountability, boundaries around our time and the will to keep going when it is just so easy to let it go among everything else competing for our time and attention.
And in addition to a creative life requiring time to create, it also requires time to just be. Writers and other creatives need alone time like they need air and water. So if we need quiet time to prime the pump and quiet time to create, and we live in a time that practically insists – or at least expects – us to be hyper focused on the outside world, much more so than on our inner selves, then of course it takes more than a little effort to protect a creative life.
Essentially though, I know I am capable of doing better, of doing more. Life is full of choices and I think I am running out of excuses.
Recently, I saw the movie Where’d You Go, Bernadette, based on the bestselling novel. Bernadette, so far removed from her former artistic career, has become anxious, destructive and unhappy.
It’s not so difficult to imagine a bout of writer’s block that goes on far too long resulting in my own demise. Perhaps that’s a bit dramatic, but the longer I leave a written book gathering dust, an essay unwritten, or new ideas to die on the vine, the more intimidating it feels to crack open the door to the work. It’s as though I cannot bear to face what I have neglected.
Good things, life affirming things, happen during a creative spell that are hard to replicate. When engaged in a creative pursuit, we are in the flow of a higher consciousness. In the act of creation we feel energized, joyful, at peace, and expanded.
“We don’t think and feel in the same way. Those neural networks our survival thinking had wired are turned off …we see new possibilities. We are now quantum observers of a new destiny. And that release heals the body and frees the mind”.
- Dr. Joe Dispenza, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself.
In short, we are better when we are creating! We are happier, calmer and freer. Who doesn’t want that, for themselves and every creative person they love?
I could write about how to fight the good fight and maintain consistency in creativity, but clearly after such a dry spell, I am not the one to give such advice. Besides, it’s been spelled out already in some fabulous books such as The War of Art and Big Magic.
But speaking of magic, I occasionally get some good insights in my dreams and recently I awoke with these words in my head: Just do a little bit each day. The message was that simple and that clear.
So there you have it. This was my little bit for today.
Many years ago, I went through a phase when I sort of wished I lived on a farm. But when I dug deep into this desire, I realized I only thought of “farm” as a noun, and not as a verb.
To farm – the verb- would mean getting up at the crack of dawn and feeding or milking various animals, collecting eggs and gathering vegetables and swatting mosquitoes. And that’s just the first hour of the day.
I figured that I really just liked the idea of a farm – the adorable red barn (that would never need repairs) and the acres of lush green with little animals grazing (it would never snow) and most of all the farm fresh food that I would turn into healthy, delicious meals at the end of every day.
I would love the scenery, the spaciousness, the sunsets, the quiet. It would be a great place to raise our children, I thought. The nature! The freedom!
But I wanted a farm without actually having to farm. I’ve had a bad experience with chickens. I like to spend my early mornings writing. I don’t exactly love getting dirty.
“I think you want to be a farmer’s wife”, my husband said.
“Probably not even that”, I responded. ” I have issues with canning.”
Once I tried fermenting some vegetables. When it was time for me to loosen the lids on the jars I’d carefully placed in the basement, I could not get them off. I was home alone with my future sauerkraut and simply could not get the lids off, not matter how I tried.
I worried the glass jars would explode. I imagined shards of glass and shreds of cabbage bursting violently into the air, the smell of vinegar and rotting vegetables taking over our home.
I called my husband to ask if they might indeed explode. He has a chemical engineering degree, so obviously he should know.
He told me they wouldn’t. I didn’t think he sounded sure enough, so I kept a safe distance, treating the jars like angry house guests that might blow their tops, quite literally, at any moment.
I’ve long since given up my farm fantasy. I can buy locally grown produce at farmer’s markets, at least in the summertime. I can find beauty all around me, in the plants and trees and art. It is easy for me to seek out quiet. I continue to spend my early mornings writing.
Occasionally, I still wonder what it might’ve been like to raise our daughters so close to nature, on some vast piece of land that feeds the soul. But I’ve also wondered what it would’ve been like to raise them in the city, surrounded by culture and diversity and subway systems.
Alas, every choice means saying no to something else.
And every farm needs a farmer.
Long before I ever had a laptop, back in the day when I was tapping at keys on a typewriter, I kept various writing notes in a decorative box, the kind you find at a craft store for keeping photos or other treasures in. While I was raising young children and my writing time was limited, it got my creative juices flowing just to take the box out and hold in. I always knew I’d get back to my work-in-progress when I could steal time again and often that was enough to keep me satisfied.
My daughters have grown and moved out, and like Virginia Woolf, I now have A Room of My Own in which to muse and write and pile up essays and book chapters on my laptop. But despite the space and all the technology available to me today, I have not outgrown The Box.
My box has changed in size and type only, having now upgraded to one I found at Staples that fits my 4×6 index cards full of notes, quotes, and ideas. It comes with matching dividers and an adjustable follow block, keeping all cards upright and orderly. If one can fall in love with a box, I surely have.
I store essay and blog ideas, memorable quotes, notes from books I’ve read, and anything else that may inform my writing. For jotting down notes away from home, I simply carry a little green index card holder, one that easily fits into a purse or a book bag. Notes from this can be transferred into the box later.
Why not just store all these notes digitally? Because I often read in bed and want to be able to write on a 4×6 card rather than record info onto my laptop. But mostly because, whether working on an essay, blog or book, I want to be able to move the cards around, rearrange them while I am referring to them, build the piece I am working on. Having so many tangible ‘moving pieces’ to work with gets me to the finished product, the whole thing, in a way that feels so satisfying to me. It’s all part of the creative process.
I see my oldest daughter, now a mother of two babies, struggle to find time to create. I recently reminded her of her art journal, of the importance of getting her ideas down on paper, of not letting them fade away like a poignant dream that can no longer be recalled. Whether in a box, a journal, or digitally, capturing our ideas in a way that we can easily refer to later, is half the fun and half the progress.
Place holders of inspiration. Nuggets of information. Parts of the whole, pieces of projects, even with small pockets of time, bit by bit will bring the dream into focus.
Dana: I am posting this from a writing residency in Massachusetts. I’m only a couple hours from home, but it feels like the middle-of-nowhere-ish. Why do writers and artists do this? Why do we leave the comfort of our own home-which for me includes a writing room of my own- in order to hole up in some other house to do that thing we do?
The short answer of course, is freedom from distractions. Let’s face it, home holds a lot of distractions. From the people we love to the laundry and to-do lists, our attention can only be on our craft for so long before our brain starts to signal a “times up” alarm. I am so aware of the life and the needs around me, I can hardly get to work if I think a plant needs watering. The idea of focusing on writing for almost three days straight with nothing else to do- and trust me there is nothing else to do here- appealed to my need for focus and efficiency.
So I sent off the required application, resume and sample of writing- all the things the gatekeepers of the residency wanted to convince them I am serious about writing. They want to know their applicants are not coming here to, say, smoke meth, hide from the law, or hook up with random strangers. And I passed their test. I’m here! I’m basking in the hours and hours of getting words on the page, writing submissions organized, edits done; all the things that I often do in fits and starts at home.
But here’s the thing about a writing residency that I did not entirely take into consideration:
There are PEOPLE here.
And the people here all use the same kitchen and yesterday when I was in my room writing, an overpowering smell of -I don’t know- beef broth? – but the fake, bouillon cube kind, not the good kind- filled the whole upstairs. Call me sensitive, but I was a little nauseous after that.
Also, we share bathrooms. It is a big old house with two huge unisex bathrooms. There are two sinks in each of these bathrooms and the toilet and shower each has its own enclosure. So it feels like we should leave the bathroom door unlocked while using the toilet or shower, so that someone else can come into the very spacious sink area to brush their teeth. But that would be weird because- did I mention we are strangers? When I took a shower, I felt like such a room hog. I mean, someone could have been waiting to brush their teeth, or wanting to pee, but they could not because I was in the back corner of this big bathroom, in the little shower stall and therefore had locked the door. Clearly we could’ve fit a whole group in there at once, doing several different toiletry things. But like I said, that would’ve been weird. So no matter what someone might be doing in there- flossing, combing their hair- they get the whole damn room.
On to the bedrooms. Each one is named after a famous writer; mine is the Emily Dickinson room. There are several of her books in my room so that I might channel some of her inspiration or talent.
It feels a little bit like freshman year of college except that no one is telling us to leave our doors open and make friends, because we are here to work after all.
But keeping my door closed did not prevent the sound of the loudest snoring I have ever heard from travelling through my bedroom wall last night. All night. And by all night, I mean the guy slept from 9pm to 9am. It was like the snoring you’d hear on a cartoon. It was cartoon snoring. If I hadn’t been tired, and then wide awake wondering if he’s been tested for sleep apnea, it might’ve been funny.
Another thing about this house: I think there are more books here than in my town’s public library. This place has books floor to ceiling every which way I turn. The house is cluttered with books. This is kind of funny because I intentionally left my books at home so that I wouldn’t spend any of my writing time reading. I’ve been known to read a whole day away, and I didn’t want the temptation.
I’ve resisted all the books though, and am pleased to have gotten a lot of writing done. All in all, it’s been time well spent. If my resident neighbor is still here tonight, it will likely be another loud night. But that’s okay- when I go to bed, his snoring will distract me from the creepy doll sitting in the chair right outside my room.
There’s no place like home.
Dana: It has indeed occurred to us that we have not posted in while. Since Brittni’s identical twin girls (my granddaughters) have been born, things have been busy- as in all-hands-on-deck busy.
Let’s just say Brittni’s hands are a tad full. And so is her heart. And mine. And all the hearts of all who love these precious babies.
Somehow, in October, Brittni managed to design a pumpkin for her fantastic seasonal art job with the JACK-O-LANTERN SPECTACULAR. (I don’t have the photo of this years pumpkin; this particular photo is from a previous year’s drawing but is a favorite). Have you heard that highly sensitive people are often also highly artistic? I’m kind of blown away by the creative work of the pumpkin artists, year after year. And one of them happens to be my daughter.
Other than that artistic escapade, it’s been pretty much all babies all the time for Brittni, as is the case with new twin parents, and especially for nursing moms. Double the joy and love and cuteness – and half the rest! The sleep deprivation is real, people.
My husband and I got away for our anniversary- 30 years! – and had a fabulous time. We are pictured here holding superfood smoothies from Newport Rhode Island’s JUICED cafe. Just as some people like to scope out the brewery or best restaurant in a city, I like to find the cold-pressed juice and smoothie cafes. The one I am holding is called their Turmeric Turbo and is made with turmeric, pineapple, carrots, lemon, ginger and banana. It was delicious and left me so energized. You can bet I’ll be trying this recipe at home.
Last month I wrote about Priorities and this month I am more committed than ever to keeping my focus on my top three: Family, Health, and Writing. Honestly, that is all I have time for. These three areas of life keep me busy for sure, but in a clear and satisfying way. They are all interconnected for me- when I feel healthy and vibrant, I have more to give my family and my writing flows as well. When I spend time with my family, as well as adequate time alone, I am inspired to write and to stay healthy. And when I write, I naturally fall into healthy habits. My life feels busy right now, but it does not feel cluttered.
And for me, uncluttered is a must.
How about you?
Dana: Happy October! Fall is in full swing now.
My two granddaughters, identical twins, were born on September 19th and I could not be prouder of my daughter and son-in-law as they lovingly and whole heartedly take on their new roles as parents. They have doubled the size of their family in one fell swoop and change is in the air, to say the least.
There was a temporary scare with one of the babies, leading to a nine day stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and perhaps Brittni will want to share more details of this at some point. But for now, I can happily say the baby is doing fabulous and has joined her family at home!
And speaking of family, I just sort of naturally narrowed down my top priorities quite a few years ago which is about as freeing and clarifying as any decision in life could be. As human beings, I think that we are both limitless and limited. We are limitless in what we can dream of and create and do in our lives. And we are limited in the amount of time and energy we have to spend. Not many people can truly focus on more than three priorities in a single lifetime. Choosing wisely, in my opinion, is key to feeling satisfied, living in integrity, and sidestepping regret.
Health, Family, and Writing are my top three. Every choice I make either supports one of these priorities or it does not. I choose accordingly and my life reflects this nearly all of the time. When it does not, I know I am out of alignment and need to readjust. In this age of abundant distractions, this is not always easy. But it has become all the more important to choose what to focus on consciously, so that the distractions do not choose us.
I like to reflect on my priorities at the start of each season, so here is what’s happening in my top three right now:
Health/Well-being: Not a lot is new here. I am in my typical exercise routine of walking/jogging and yoga. I eat healthy most of the time. When I don’t, I feel lethargic and just plain icky. I know that how I feel viscerally is of huge importance. For example, too much sugar, though it tastes good in the mouth, feels bad in my body. If I don’t get enough sleep, I have trouble focusing on my writing the next day. If I spend too long in a loud environment, my energy is drained. I rarely skip a day of meditation because, well, see the research. It works magic. I find managing energy is just as important as managing time. And I want all the energy I can muster do the things I want to do and to love all the people!
Family: Welcoming my new granddaughters into the world feels amazing! Love truly does grow in an instant. Our capacity for love is bigger than anything else. Oh, the anticipated joy of seeing these babies grow, one day at a time… Bring. It. On.
Writing: I am excited to see how this blog grows and changes with the passing of time. We don’t know where it will take us, but I hope we can reach other sensitive souls out there, with our words, our memories and our present-day experiences. We are all sensitive beings and we do ourselves a great service to pay attention, every single day- every moment even- to how we feel. Because if we stop feeling, both the good and the bad, physically and emotionally, then we shut down our bodies, our hearts, our authentic selves. And that is a tragedy.
I am also excited to send my updated memoir proposal out into the world of literary agents, and to move forward with other writing projects as well. I look forward to whatever new speaking engagements the end of this year and next year bring.
I cannot imagine living without creating. We are all creating something, almost all of the time- our day, a meal, a list, a relationship, a career, a song, a home, a family. I am so often mesmerized by the creativity I see around me, in others, in the world. We are creative beings for sure, and that in itself is amazing.
What are you creating now?
What are your top priorities?
Bring. Them. On.