Do That Thing You Do

I’ve posted before about the restorative power of practicing one’s art. Doing that thing that nourishes your soul and reminds you that there is beauty in the world is so important. In this era of endless chores, responsibilities, and commitments, it is much too easy to forget who you really are. A lack of time to meet all those responsibilities and commitments is often the culprit, and we end up sacrificing ourselves in order to meet those external demands.

This post is a reminder that once in a while, no matter how much laundry needs washing or the fact that the fridge needs to be cleaned out, you must to make time for you. Sometimes, you need to let the stack of bills go for a few more hours, and spend that time doing that thing that refreshes and recharges your soul. That thing is what makes your stress level drop. It’s what centers you. It gives you pleasure and fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment. It rejuvenates. It speaks to you as nothing else in your life does or can.

You deserve time to do your thing.

Although this concept is not news to me, I tend to forget it all too easily when mired in the pressures and stress of day-to-day life and school work. Yet, I was reminded of something this weekend that I want to share with you in the hopes it will inspire you to make time to nourish your soul.

I’m an introvert with a capital I. Socializing has been known to induce panic attacks for me. Most people annoy the hell out of me. I have little natural patience, and I’m inherently high-strung. These are hard truths I’ve learned to accept instead of change. I try to force myself into uncomfy situations because I know that people are nice and good and once I get into the situation it’s usually okay and not as terrifying as I imagined. Still, I will pick a book at home over a night out with new people every single time. Alone is my happy place. All too often, I sacrifice my alone time to meet obligations and other’s expectations.

This weekend, I refused to let myself get sucked into that pattern.

So with dishes piling and vacuuming waiting, I told my husband that I was disappearing to my sewing room to be “creative” for a while “or else I will go insane”. Because he is wonderful, he said, “Go! Be creative!” Bless him, and bless him for being in my life. He knows me better than  I know myself. What I’ve recently learned is that if I don’t take time away from everyone to recharge my energy, I gradually turn into a grumpy, short-tempered and irritable pain in the ass. Someone who is quick to anger and given to blow things out of proportion. Someone who is NO fun to be around.

I have two primary creative hobbies. One is writing fiction. The other is sewing. I was feeling too scatter brained and full of tension to write a story. My thoughts were jumbled, and my stress level too high to concentrate on the feelings of characters. So I scurried to the basement to my sewing room. My stash of sewing machines, fabric, thread, and patterns is like a balm of creative possibility. After looking though a few old quilting magazines, I settled on a small wall hanging project. I’d been hoarding a purple and black fat-quarters bundle that would be perfect for a rail fence block pattern.

The process of cutting fabric and stitching the blocks had the usual effect. Twice during the process, I made a mental note of how much better I felt. After a few hours, my blood pressure had lowered, and the prospect of human interaction didn’t make me cringe. I paused and took some deep breaths. I focused on how I was feeling and tried to take note of the calm, soothed, and relaxed state I was in. I was present in that moment, and was able to recognize the huge difference in my mood. I sent a silent mantra of gratefulness out into the Universe, and felt it return to me with acceptance and loving kindness.

In that moment of clarity and inner peace, I made myself promise that I would not allow myself to sacrifice so much in the name of obligation. Making time to be creative cannot be secondary in my life. It must be a primary goal. Being creative is who I am. To deny that or set it aside is dishonoring my essence and my purpose in this life.

Don’t deny who you are in favor of all those things that our society places so much value on. Yes, of course the mortgage needs to get paid and groceries need to be bought, but it can wait a few more hours or that extra day. When you feel as though you just can’t take it anymore, that life’s demands are too demanding, and that you are forgetting or losing yourself in the life you have, please make time to practice that part of you that makes the crappy parts of life bearable. Don’t sacrifice too much of yourself all of the time.

Don’t forget who you really are.

The next day after I’d finished my quilt top, my mom came over to my house. My top didn’t come out perfectly, and I asked her what I had done wrong. She gave me some tips and I will need to rework parts of it. That’s okay. I didn’t get angry at myself for the mistakes. I was simply grateful for that time to hold fabric in my hand. I was grateful for the soothing hum of the sewing machine, grateful for the snippets of thread now littering the floor, and most of all, grateful that no one was placing any demands on me or my time.

Before you were a mom, a dad, a runner, a husband, a wife, a career person, a caretaker of elderly parents, whatever, you were you first. There is nothing selfish in recharging yourself so that you can be emotionally available to those you love. And those that love you will see the peace and joy your thing lights up inside of you and welcome it.

Do your thing and do it often!

16 block rail fence wall hanging (unfinished)

16 block rail fence wall hanging (unfinished)

rail fence close up

rail fence close up

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Create or Die

My head has been a crazy mess lately. There is so much in my brain that it’s affecting my ability to focus and prioritize. I was reminded recently that writing stuff down can be a good way to get it out of your head so you can move on.

Yes, I forgot this basic principle of writing.

Clearly, I am in trouble.

So this post is about lots of stuff and it may be a bit jumbled just like my brain is at the moment. By writing perhaps I can sort, categorize, prioritize. (Warning, there may be a smidgen of whining ahead.)

When I’m enrolled in classes, they take over my life and I begin a guilt spiral that makes me feel so helpless and out of control that I want to flip off everything and go live in a cave. The guilt stems from not meeting the lofty expectations I have of myself. The helplessness and loss of control comes from being forced to set aside my personal goals for work and school, i.e. the things I have to do. I want to be loving on my husband and writing and doing yoga and meditating and playing my guitar and sewing and crocheting and playing with my doggies. But, fitting all of that in simply isn’t realistic. I just haven’t figured out how to make sacrifices I can live with. Each of those things are really important to me, and of course I make my husband and pets my priority after work and school but everything else is cast aside.

The goals I set for myself in my head are amazing and full of positive, healthy change; both emotionally and physically. I’ve heard that it takes twenty-one days to establish a routine. Knowing that twenty-one days is a completely reasonable time frame, I begin making elaborate routines on my Outlook calendar, scheduling in every minute between five o’clock am and ten o’clock pm with a productive thing to do. I don’t schedule any T.V time. I do schedule meditation and yoga time. It’s always so pretty and color-coded and seemingly doable. And then, that first “morning of change”, I remember some things.

Five o’clock in the morning is a stupid time of day.

I devote eight hours of my life a day to a corporate entity.

Commuting two hours total a day is also pretty stupid.

I spend a few hours a night doing homework.

I like to spend some time with my husband and dogs, for Pete’s sake.

I have to bathe, eat, and do chores sometimes too.

I really love sleep. Really. Like, a lot.

So now, I’ve hit the low point in my cycle of positive change, the stage where I acknowledge my failure to make it happen. It’s that point when my optimism has totally deserted me and I can’t see any way to make time for all my goals. I can’t honor who I truly am. I can’t be creative for the foreseeable future. And one thing I’ve learned about myself in the last few years is that if I don’t get to be creative, I become sad. Discontented. Frustrated. In a word, bitchy. These days, I don’t often have time to create anything. But with deprivation and sacrifice comes insight, yes?

Yes.

I know some amazing ladies that are always striving for personal improvement and self-discovery. They recently started a running blog called Scoot A Doot, and reading their posts this week has inspired me to find time for the things that are super important to me but always get pushed aside in favor of work, housework and homework. Work, work WORK. I need some play time, too, dammit. I just have to accept that an hour for yoga and meditation isn’t realistic for my schedule right now, and that doing an activity for less than thirty minutes still counts for something.

It amazes me how much I am still learning about myself. You hear all those clichés when you’re a kid about how fast time goes by the older you get and that you’re constantly growing and learning, spiritually and emotionally. They’re true. But I’m not sure if you change or that you just allow yourself to become who you really are. Maybe you give yourself the freedom to let go of fear of judgment. Maybe you lift the cloud of self-misconception that was fed to you from others since childhood. Maybe you discover something inside of you that was unknown and untapped before, and it shows you a whole new aspect of yourself.

I never thought of myself as creative until a few years ago. When my mother taught me to sew in 1986, it was still considered a life skill not a specialized one. I didn’t understand that the amazing things my mom could do with her sewing machine or a needle in hand was art, and it was being created with love and imagination and good intentions right before my eyes. As a child, I wasn’t exposed to a lot of traditional art. I didn’t take many art classes in school, and when I did my work showed no special talent. I know little about art history, and modern art is confusing to me. I convinced myself that it was because I didn’t have an imagination. When people told me to try writing fiction, I laughed, convinced I would be awful.

When I finally gave in and tried writing I realized that I wasn’t that bad, certainly not awful, but more importantly, I loved it. I felt like I was feeding a starved and weak part of myself that was hidden from me all my life.  The more I wrote and fed the writer in me, the better I got at writing. Writing became something that I must do, instead of something I want to do. When I deny myself the time to create, I am depriving who I really am.

This is no longer acceptable to me.  I’m not sure what the solution is yet. Perhaps the compromise will be this, coming here to my blog and committing to an expression of creativity through this medium where no plot outlines or seam rippers are needed. I don’t have a whole Saturday to work on one of the many unfinished projects in my sewing room, but maybe I can crochet more when I sit with my husband on the couch. I don’t have an hour a day to work on my novel, but maybe I can find fifteen minutes a day here, and write a blog post or two a week . It’s something!