On January 1st of this year, my writing partner and I embarked on a journey of 52 weeks, 52 short stories.
The honest reflection on this, here at the halfway mark, is that it has been really hard for me. It has been a battle, a battle between me and my creativity. A battle of creativity.
My mind is a jumble. I am in constant transition of the things I want to create. It’s almost like ADD, but exclusively around creativity.
A few years ago, when I was a member of a local gallery, I would disappear into the creative process, moving into the “zone” where time disappears and everything softens and every bit of art-making calms my nervous system.
The gallery gave me a wall and it was my job to keep that wall filled with my art. In time, however, that requirement became daunting. I was creating art to fill the wall, not because I wanted to create art. I was honored that my art was selling fast enough that I needed to fill those empty spaces, but I was becoming empty.
Julia Cameron in The Artist Way requires artists to commit to the weekly artist date; a way of refilling the creative bucket. It seemed that I was emptying myself faster than I could refill, like a pail with holes down to its base.
One way to keep my creative attention deficit focused was by making new things for the gallery’s gift portion: hand-dyed silk, fairy wands, hand-crafted lavender oil, polymer clay creations, and more. But suddenly, like the art, these became obligations.
Apparently, I do not do well with obligations.
I found myself crying more. I found myself resistant to doing my work days. I found myself not fitting in so well with the other gallery members. I tried to find ways to make it work, but changes in the way the gallery was run pushed me further away. One night, after the gallery Christmas party, I cried hysterically the whole way home; unable to describe how hurt I felt by many of the people there.
And so, just before Covid hit, I left. I said I was leaving because I wanted to write. That was true, but it was also that I had become empty of visual creativity. I was exhausted. I was terribly unhappy, feeling like an odd-shaped puzzle piece sitting in the wrong box.
I took a creative break from art, believing I would take the time to recharge and return to a novel I started years ago. Suddenly we found our world turning in a new direction; Covid. Would they close the schools? Certainly they would only be closed for a few weeks and our kids would be back before the end of the year. I was on the prom committee. We would still have prom, wouldn’t we?
How naive I was.
My husband was deployed, so it was just me and our daughter (plus a dog, cats, and chickens).
Honestly, it was glorious to have no place we had to be (says the overtired introvert.) We watched a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race, starting with the first season, and gloried in their creativity. In Julia Cameron’s words, I took the role of the shadow artist.
We ate goat cheese and chocolate. I started taking a picture of every sunset. Being quarantined can be glorious in that the sunset is a very reliable friend. Even on foggy days, I knew it was there through the mist.
I took a lot of pictures; of the seasons as they changed, of flowers as they grew, of insects and chickens sitting on my lap. I took pictures of my daughter; at a virtual prom, wearing a wig and colored contacts because there was no one there to judge her, in the fog, dressing up.
I asked friends to join me in the Artist Way online, with me acting as facilitator. I also started an online book club. Both groups were large to start but faded in time.
I faded too.
I began to feel like I wasn’t doing either of them for me, I was only doing it based on the obligation of the commitment I made. As long as there were others fully participating, I would follow through on my commitment.
Finally, there were only three of us left; myself, my writing partner, Bridgette, and Deborah. Deborah is able to stick through every commitment like she has uttered an unbreakable spell. (Bridgette commits to not let me or herself down, Deborah commits as part of the fabric of her soul.)
I don’t know if it’s the obligation that drains on me or how much energy I’m putting out in comparison to my intake. I never got tired of the time with my daughter or RuPaul or the sunsets, but those things all fill my leaky bucket.
My commitment to Artist Way and our book club faded. As people began to come out from quarantine, I could no longer maintain either commitment. I think perhaps functioning in the real world is one of the things that drain me.
This last November, I finally finished a commitment that I could feel proud of; I completed 50,000 words in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I didn’t finish the story I was working on (a rewrite of Wizard of Oz) but I did finish the month-long commitment. Eight months later, and I miss the work I was doing on that story. I also miss the work I did the year before, even though I can’t remember if I completed 50,000 words in 2020.
Artist Way helped grow my relationship with my writing support, Bridgette. She stuck it out with me until I faded away. She stuck with the book club too. The last two years of NaNoWriMo have only been successful because of her support.
We had the opportunity to get together this year, at the end of week 25/ the beginning of week 26. It was so wonderful to see her. I honestly felt sad though, sad that I wasn’t done with my week 25 writing and had to focus on that instead of focusing on her. When I talked to her about “maybe we should take this week off and catch up next week?” She firmly set the boundary that she needed to finish.
Honestly, my commitment to her commitment is what got me past week three and has kept me going since. Not only do I have attention deficit when it comes to my creativity, but I am also avoidant and reluctant and can go for years without finishing a thing if I don’t have external goals.
And so here we are. It is week 27 as I write this (week 28 when I finally post) and I have had the opportunity to come and sit on a porch in the cool humidity just a few houses from the Jersey Shore. I’m working to recharge and fill my ever leaky bucket.
I have stories for the first 25 weeks and I fight to find something to say for the week 26, 27, and 28 prompts. I’m behind on those stories, but am also trying to honor this vacation by letting it be a vacation. Week 25 with Bridgette didn’t feel like the retreat I hoped it would be because there was a story hanging over my head.
Writing these stories have started to make me feel like I did at the gallery; a bit resentful at the words and topics, frustrated at what a slow writer I am, resistant, and a bit empty of ideas. I have learned to push myself. My writing is improving. I’m faster. My skills at editing are getting better.
Through this process, I’ve learned that I really miss making art. Isn’t that the way it goes?
I’m starting to think I don’t just have one creative bucket.
I have many creative buckets.
Right now, my short story creative bucket is pretty drained, but my general writing bucket (about life and travel) is still full. My art buckets are also pretty full, having had a few years to fill and repair–and I have a lot of art buckets.
As I photographed New Jersey earlier this week, I was inspired for a series of abstract oil paintings I want to create when I get home based on sunsets here.
The part I struggle with the most is that I committed to 52 weeks, 52 stories. I made a promise not only to Bridgette but to myself. And so, each week (until week 26), I’ve put that commitment before any other creative process. Because I just barely finish my stories on Saturday, it means I take a rest on Sunday (generally to wash dishes that have also been avoided in the name of writing) and then try to start again the following week.
If I could find a pattern of getting my story completed earlier in the week, perhaps I could find time for my other creative buckets. But I do have a life outside of this, and I want to exist in that life too. It is why I probably won’t commit to NaNoWriMo this year; I’m just too tired.
I really miss the other creative aspects of my life. I’m trying to figure out how to balance this experience while also staying true to my goals. My daughter is graduating from high school at Christmas and possibly going away to college next summer. She is my only child, and I’m grateful I’ve found identity (beyond being her mom) in writing and art because while I will miss her desperately, she’ll know that I have goals I am working towards.
I have to continue my work on the 52 stories, even if I don’t end up with a full 52. (I really like the prompts for weeks 26 and 27) but with less rigidity on a time. I have to let go of my guilt at trying to be ready to publish at the same time as Bridgette and give her the freedom to post when she’s ready, even if I’m not.
I have to figure out how to create my own goals, commit to myself, fill the creative buckets and just acknowledge when one is empty and not judge myself too harshly.