Archive | November, 2012

A Rhythm of Life

23 Nov
The Whisper of the Muse. Elizabeth Keown, G.F....

The Whisper of the Muse. Elizabeth Keown, G.F. Watts and Kate Keown. Albumen print, 261 x 215mm (10 1/4 x 8 1/2″). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was reading an interesting discussion about creative burnout on the blog ScoutieGirl. Her reflections on her own work schedule and how to be as creative as she could be got me thinking. Here are a few of my random musings.

1. Creativity comes in lots of different “flavors.” When I first read “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron (about 10 years ago), I let go of some of my own prejudices and misconceptions about living a truly creative life.  Some of these ill-founded ideas were based on familiar stereotypes: the starving artist, high-maintenance pain-in-the-ass, incapable of sustaining stable relationships, living a life of excess and dissipation. Who in their right mind would want that for a life? (Oh yeah, let’s not forget another stereotype, the insane genius.) By dismantling some of these stereotypes, The Artist’s Way helped me to embrace, for the first time, the idea that “creatives” can make a good living, have stable loving relationships, and seem outwardly normal in every way. This was very good news to me, a middle-aged woman, launching out on her own as a refugee from academia.

2. If you are waiting for Your Muse, be prepared for him/her to arrive on an erratic schedule.  Some people have the flexibility to work very well like this.  However, if you add a partner, children, clients, or artistic collaborators to the mix, they get pretty impatient with your damn muse. Muses are happy to be trained. If you show up at pretty much the same time every day to do your work, and stick with it, your Muse will learn your schedule and will work with you.

3. You have to know yourself well enough to honor your own rhythms.  Whether you are a morning person or a night owl, it makes sense to work when you are feeling the most awake and alert — the most responsive and fluent in self-expression. Sometimes, you can have more than one rhythm.  After a long absence from writing, I have been writing every day for the past two weeks, usually in the morning. I log in to a site called and have at it. I may write more, or other things, at various times of the day. However, it is that early-morning-while-it-is-still-quiet time when I can best get things going.  I usually keep a pretty sedate schedule, up by 8 a.m., in bed by 11 p.m. and asleep by 11:02. When I am working on a new project, I can be so mentally stimulated that I am writing late into the night. Like tonight.  When inspiration beckons, I like to follow it. I am in the process of finding a way to organize my time so that I can have a blend of structure and spontaneity in my work. I’ll let you know how that goes!

4. I think there is a difference between physical burnout and creative burnout, although they may go hand in hand. My own comeback from burnout actually began when I became aware that a few health issues needed improvement, and ASAP.  I began in earnest to pay attention to getting enough rest (I am talking 8 hours a night, folks) and to improve my nutrition.  As I began to feel better, I somehow showed up again in my own life.  I didn’t even realize that I was burned out, and that was why my creative inspiration had dried up. My personal burnout manifested as overwhelm. Too many irons in the fire, too many tasks, too many requests, too many emails. The only thing that there wasn’t too many of was clients. I simply didn’t have the energy to do the daily and weekly activities necessary to fill the pipeline with new customers. Happily that is now turning around as well.

Each of us is constantly adapting to circumstances and our environment as we find it, moment by moment. When you change anything — your schedule, your nutrition, your projects — you will change too, and your work will change as a result.  This is called “artistic development.”  The great thing is that, apparently,  a growth response to change can keep you learning and creating throughout your lifetime.  That is what I am counting on.

Have you found a rhythm that works for you? How do you balance all the aspects of your life? 

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22 Nov
A roast turkey prepared for a traditional U.S....

A roast turkey prepared for a traditional U.S. Thanksgiving meal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is the eve of  The Month of Mayhem. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. I just wrote a really poetic and negative couple of sentences about how I dread the holidays. It was so dark and dramatic that I deleted it. My assessment of the holidays boils down to two words: “Too much.”  Too much food, too much work, too much stress, too much of everything. I went through a couple of decades where the holidays were a blur of excess. I used to expect a wave of near-depression as soon as the first decorations appeared — which means that from the end of September until New Year’s, I was in a funk.

The last few years have been much, much better.  I have embraced the Mayhem, or at least accepted it as “the state of how things are going to be for awhile.” It really is OK. This year, I have new resolve to treat myself well and to pay attention to the warning signs that I could veer off into the “burnout zone.”

My inspiration today came from, of all things, the airlines’ pre-flight safety speech, regarding the oxygen mask. If you fly more than once a year, you ca probably recite the speech from memory. Here’s the part that inspired me: “If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, SECURE YOUR OWN MASK FIRST, and THEN assist the other person(s).” (Emphasis mine.)

The next few weeks will be full of demands. Lots of people ask me to do lots of things.  Some of those things are my job, and some of those things, I really would like to do.  But not all of them. I have new priorities: excellent nutrition and rest for myself, excellent attention for my clients and students, firm stop times for work so that home time is relaxing and renewing. If I do decide to say “Yes” to a request, I will make sure that I bring my oxygen mask along, and keep it ready for my own self-care.

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A Burnout Bio

18 Nov
Forest fire

Forest fire (Photo credit: ElissaMeyers)

It was a weekend of revelations.

One dear friend and colleague said, “I’ve missed your newsletter.  I used to gobble up your short blog posts.”

“You haven’t missed anything.  I haven’t been sending out many newsletters.”  I dodged, but I got her point.  Here was someone who had enjoyed my writing, and I had to acknowledge that I had stopped.  Stopped dead in my tracks.

Later that day, another friend asked, “So, how long has it been since you last wrote something on your blog?”

“Months,” I replied. “Months and months.”  Tears, surprising tears, began to well up. “I absolutely love to write,” I said. “But in the last few months, I just couldn’t face it.  I am all dried up, drained out, and have absolutely nothing to say.”  Gradually, after more conversations, I had a new and convenient basket to put my feelings in.  It was called “Burnout.”  Not just a label, this term was a holding place for the contrasting feelings of apathy and exhaustion, playing side-by-side with anguished emotion.

“What if you wrote about burnout?” My friend knew full well that it was a leading question, but I’m glad she said it.  It was plain as day, and she was perceptive enough to know that at that moment, I couldn’t see it.  Once she said it, I saw it instantly.  I even FELT it.  It was as though blood started flowing through my veins again.  Lights came on inside my brain. I could see new possibilities.

So this is the inaugural post, a simple introduction. Here I am, writing again, on a new blog. You will read my confessions from the journey, currently in progress, back from the brink.  Actually, I was past the brink.  That phrase just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

I don’t have the right, nor the expertise, to tell anyone else what they should do.  All I can do is share my story, and hope that it inspires you.  Thanks for dropping by!

Are you, or someone close to you, experiencing burnout in some facet of your life? Are you a helper of “Crispy Critters?” Leave a comment, be in touch!

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