Creative Spaces

creativespaces

I’m not sure if it was the labour itself, or perhaps the new event of being forced to sit, with little to do for long periods of time, but when I became a mother, I had a new, insatiable creative itch. Stories, ideas, thoughts, concepts, images swam through my mind. I longed to take a net, and capture them.

But between wrapping a baby, carrying a baby, feeding a baby, walking a baby around the town, and rocking a baby to sleep, it seemed I had little to no opportunity to cast a creative net. It was frustrating, because the pool seemed so deep, yet so alive with life. All I needed was five minutes – an hour, to reach in, and catch what I needed.

Around that time, my great and amazing friend Fritha was starting her journey as a life coach, and was looking for someone to test her new skills with. My arm, tired from carrying child, shot into the air, as if coffee hung from a cloud above.

One hour chat with Fritha changed everything. The first thing was identifying what I really wanted. Was it to amble around the lake, admiring the fish? No. It was to lower the net, and start making something happen.

What was stopping me? So much, I asserted. A baby. And all her many needs. I have absolutely no time.

She encouraged me to look at my week, not as a whole, but in fractions.

‘So, when are you having these creative thoughts?’ she asked.

‘Walking the pram.’

‘How often is that, would you say?’

‘Most days. Twenty minutes to town and back.’

‘OK. So that’s seven days. Forty minutes. So at minimum, you are spending two-hundred and eighty minutes being creative a week?’

It sounded like a lot. But it was true. I started to get excited. Where else were these creative pockets?

Hanging clothes. Washing up. Rocking baby to sleep in the dark. The creative minutes piled up before me.

‘And what time does Baby go to sleep at night?’

‘Around seven.’

‘Then?’

Then… well, exactly. Then. Then my creative life really began. All those thoughts accumulated through the day, baskets of creative fish writhing and alive, were waiting. And all I had to do was open my computer, and let them free.

It was a wonderful feeling.

I discovered blogging around that time. I blogged most nights. Not because I felt I had to. Simply because I had to. The need was irrepressible. My husband kindly washed dishes while I wrote short stories and posts. The accumulative effect of being creative was like a snowball, ever growing the more I rolled.

In recent years, I haven’t had a structured nine-to-five job. My work day has been broken over many hours and days, a week fragmented into slices of parenting and shards of work. I worked when I could, and parented around work. But thanks to my early conversations with Fritha, creativity was never far from hand.

I’d sit down to work, and before launching into a project, would quickly tap out a blog post that had been burning within. Between dishes and folding the washing, I squeezed out a status update. Or maybe jotted down the outline of a picture book. Creative ideas were everywhere, as long as I was looking.

As busy as we were, technically, my week was bursting to the seams with creative space.

The richest space of all, ironically, came from what was otherwise the hardest hour of my day.

As a constant do-er, I found lying down with my kids to help them sleep initially lovely and wonderful, but later challenging, the longer it took. Some nights, lying beside my eldest, waiting an hour and a half for the wiggles to cease seemed like a small torture, as lovely as she is. I longed to get on with my night.

But then I let my mind sink into a creative space. The richest, deepest most wonderful creative lake there was in my week. Stories formed, almost in tact. Blog posts too. Entrepreneurial ideas I felt convinced would change the world. My subconscious was in overdrive and having the time of its life.

And as soon as the child’s arms finally became heavy, I lifted them off, and turned my thoughts into words on a page.

My life as a parent is never static. Nor is my husband and my work schedules. Things are forever changing, particularly this year, as we travel Europe with two small children, and no official address, taking life as it comes.

My creative spaces are sometimes elusive, and harder to find. Lately, they’ve appeared in the swimming pool, in the forest, running through the gardens and at seven in the morning, when I am the only one in the house awake.

The important thing about catching fish though is to do it. If I harness that creativity when its there, it grows.

Where are your creative spaces in the week? 

A little critter called self doubt

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There is a little critter, which runs around the house. It chews cords, and makes a mess. It keeps you awake at night. 

When I was little, I devoted pages in diaries to this critter. Why doesn’t So and So like me? What did I do wrong? Why am I such a horrible person etc etc. With every page, the critter got bigger as it feasted on my every analytical and self-critical sentiment. A monster house pest roamed around me, haunting and bothering me and keeping me awake. It did its best to ruin relationships, and convince me that I was worthless and hopeless.

By 20, I was so sick of reading about and writing about this critter, I stuck my diaries in a big wooden box, and tucked the box under my bed. The critter squirmed and writhed. Apparently lack of oxygen does wonders when deflating over-sized house pests.

This critter goes by a name. You may have a critter with a similar name. Mine is called Self Doubt.

Self Doubt the critter is smaller these days. But it’s still there, under my bed. On days full of productivity, positive feedback and praise, Self Doubt is silent and forgotten. If ever I receive negative feedback, or feel I’ve done something wrong or less than, the critter reminds me of its presence under my bed. It may even have a bit of a wander around the room, wake me up, and damage the electrical wires.

The thing about Self Doubt, the critter, is that I’m kind of used to its presence. And I’m wondering if it’s all bad.

Here’s what I’ve learned about Self Doubt over the years.

Don’t feed it. 

The critter is pretty great at finding its own food. Leaving chunks of cheese out is not necessary. Critters such as Self Doubt love tasty morsels like negative self-talk, lack of sleep and overwhelm.

Know it’s there 

There’s nothing worse than being woken up in the night by noises under the bed, and not having a clue what or who they belong to. Knowing Self Doubt lingers in your house means 3am wake ups don’t need to turn into 3 hours of insomnia. Hello critter. I know you’re there. Goodnight.

It’s not all bad

Most houses have critters. And most living things have a purpose, of some kind. Spiders eat mozzies and flies. I’m sure mice do something useful, somewhere.

As a creative type person, prone to productivity and putting myself out there, Self Doubt is a useful regulator. It keeps me in check. It helps me question myself. It makes me try and see things from other people’s perspective. Just because I think the little story I’ve just written could be my  opus, doesn’t mean others will. Sometimes, a gentle reminder from the critter under my bed helps me moderate my expectations.

Like all things in life, in balance and moderation, Self Doubt is okay, when you learn to live with it. It could even be a good thing.

Do you have critters under your bed too?

Image from Creative Commons. Linking with Essentially Jess

Creative busy parents

creativity

Hello. How’s your week been? I’ve been a little hamster on a race wheel since getting back from our tour. Run, hamster, run! Most days, I’ve written 6,000 + words for work. One day, I handed my work in at 5pm then made Tinkerbell costumers and a cake for my daughter’s happy cakey day. I made my children call me Super Mum, and vetoed all complaints immediately.

Let’s talk about this busy, busy thing, shall we? Hands up if you are busy. Yes… I see lots of raised hands. Here we are, all scampering around to make party costumes, and cakes, and fulfil our work commitments, and make sure our children are completely happy and satisfied at all times… That last one is an impossible goal. Let’s just aim for – alive and mostly well.

I’ve always thrived on busy, I have to admit. I used to love my busy, sometimes stressful job at the art gallery for that reason. Someone likened working as an art gallery attendant to a duck on water. And we were, busy peddling away to run the place, while appearing calm and glidey to anyone who was watching.

I like tight deadlines, because they get me cracking. I like organising the million of things to do in my head, like an invisible calendar. I like the satisfaction when it all comes together. And as you saw from my book tour post – I am a crazy lady. I feel like I can take on a million things, and stretch like a rubber band to take on just a little bit more.

We’ve had periods in our busy life, which have been more busy than others. Like that time when my husband worked 6-7 days a week. I was writing entire educational books in five weeks.  We had a newborn and a preschooler. AND we tried to renovate. Actually, we did renovate. My husband pulled up all the carpets, tiled, and painted the whole interior. Yes, it was a crazy time. And looking back, we can’t believe we pulled it off.

Generally, we’ve both worked a fair bit since becoming parents. We throw the parenting baton between us. I send off my documents, just as he’s heading out the door to a care shift.

Somehow, we’ve found a way to do a lot, and not feel too hectic while we do it.

But, there are consequences. And sometimes the rubber band can stretch too tightly. It breaks. Or pops off your finger, and pokes someone in the eye. Gosh that hurts.

Like that time, last year, when we thought that on top of all the other things we do, we could start a brand new music project extraordinaire called The Quincys, where we’d release a new song every month, plus an illustrated (sometimes animated) story, an animated video clip, an activity and a learning resource EVERY MONTH! I figured I would just reduce time spent on my blog, and reallocate it.

Of course, we were way too optimistic. And a few months in, I started to feel the pressure. My kids started to complain about the Quincys, because it was taking time away from them. And we realised we needed to pull back. We decided to just release the song, and the video each month. And now, we’ve put the project on ice until my book events have quietened down again, and we can dedicate serious time to producing an album.

Doing creative activities is so fun. And so fulfilling. And when you make it something which the kids can be involved in, it’s extra fun. But sometimes it’s too much, and the result is a deficit of creativity.

At the end of that particular crazy period, I found I couldn’t do anything. I sat down to write, and nothing came. I tried drawing, but just got frustrated. Even I had reached my limit.

I took time out. It was summer, and family were here. So I chilled out beside lakes. I READ NOVELS! Lots of them. I thought about Facebook occasionally, but didn’t bother checking it. I sucked up time with my small ones like it was oxygen.

So where are we at now? The repercussions of this recent busy time aren’t so intense. I feel a little less creative. And a little less motivated. But I am just going to bed a bit earlier, keeping on top of my exercise, and eating well. I am trying not to be too hectic – though that rush to get kids and husband out the door on time for preschool gets me every week. I know my creative mojo will bounce back soon.

In general, I am a big believer in finding your balance between busy, parenting life and creativity. I think the right amount of creativity can help us parent better, and be more fulfilled as a person.

Recently, I did a podcast for a local community radio show, Parenting, Birth and Beyond, which is a national community radio series about parenting. I talked about fostering creativity in motherhood. You can listen here.

How do you balance creativity in parenthood? Do you have any hot tips?

A natural dye garden gathering

It all started with Gardening Australia.

One night, at Mum’s, my kids and I were watching Gardening Australia. On the show, a lady demonstrated how to dye fabrics with plants from your garden.

First thing the next morning, Elki wanted to make her own naturally dyed quilt. I am excited to share the whole process with you when the quilt is finished – I think it’s such a lovely project. And it’s turning out so well!

Meanwhile, a few friends started chatting about natural dye, and next thing, there was a spontaneous gathering in my garden. It was the only sunshine-y day of the week, so we were very lucky.

We ate necessary pre-dyeing croissants and home-made chocolate brownie. We drank coffee out of pretty cups. The children jumped on the trampoline.

Lovely Nell spread out her blue blanket in the garden. She laid out the bits and pieces she’s been working on over the years. She had prepared little paper bags of fabrics for each of us to experiment with. She brought her mordants for us to use, and jars of dye she’d make the day before.

We went around the garden gathering leafy and petally specimens. We put colours in jars, and added our fabrics. The more organised amongst us {clearly not me} wrote down the names of the specimen and the fabric type.

After boiling the colours, Nell showed us how to play with mordants. We experimented; changing botanical shades dramatically by adding iron or alum.

Things I learnt about naturally dyeing fabrics with plants

1. dye animal fibres, like silk or wool
2. if dyeing plant fibres like linen or cotton, pre-soak overnight in 1 litre of soy milk
3. you can put fabric and plants in jar at the same time
4. add lemon and salt to strengthen colour
5. put jar or fabric + plants into cold water, and bring to boil {do not put cold jar into hot water or jar will break}
6. boil covered for at least fifteen minutes – longer is better
7. separate colours after straining out plants, and test with 1 teaspoon of iron, chalk or alum
8. always dye in a well-ventilated space
9. use old jars and vessels not intended for cooking food
10. you can wash and dry fabrics as normal if fabrics are pre-soaked, or contain animal protein

Our natural, colourful beauties dried in the sun, and our little hearts were filled with warmth, and rainbow goodness. What wonderful, creative friends I have!

xx

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Linking with Essentially Jess

Into darkness :: How the darkness has become my creative mentor

into darkness

The night is quiet. Well, almost.

A little chatter comes from one side of me. A sound – like a twitch, if you can imagine that, comes from the other.

There is tossing. Turning. My arm is in the wrong place, apparently. So is the blanket. More tossing. More turning. This can last for over an hour.

Not long ago, putting two squiggly children to sleep drove me somewhere in the direction of insane. I breathed deeply, trying to keep my cool. But if one squiggly child seemed to be sleeping, then the other slightly more squiggly child squiggled in the wrong direction, and woke the sleeping child up only to begin the hours more of squiggly activity – my temper would crack open.

‘Enough!’ I would yell into the not so quiet night. ‘Enough! You children need to sleep!’  The children would cry. My arms would tense around them. More tears.

I would, of course, feel awful.

From the minute my first child was born {five and a half years ago}, my up and down relationship with the night began. I have been blessed with beautiful, beautiful children who are blessed with squiggly genes.

And because we are the parents we are, and we believe the stuff we do, we’ve decided to lie next to them to guide them into sleep.

One squiggly child is enough. But two is more than twice the work. They keep each other awake. And fuss is contagious, apparently.

Earlier this year, my sanity was in shaky ruins. It was give up altogether, or rope my husband into lying-down duties. My youngest wouldn’t like it, but she would have to learn to, otherwise mummy would flip altogether.

So we started taking turns. After a couple of days of resistance, my youngest accepted that one night was mummy’s turn and one night was daddy’s turn.

My sanity returned. My guilty-mum levels plummeted. And I suddenly had an extra two to three hours a week of time to spend writing.

Now that my lying down responsibilities have halved, I have come to enjoy them. And my creativity needs them. That hour-and-a-half of darkness is essential to opening channels in my mind. I process stuff, and then ideas start to drift across. Stories and characters form.

As a new mum, getting my baby to sleep was probably the challenge I found hardest. Singing Hallelujah on loop as I rocked her incessantly felt like a strange kind of torture.

But what has been most challenging has also been about the best thing for me as a person generally and as a creative person. I have learned patience, yes. And in a busy life, I am forced, in a way, into a kind of creative meditation.

It’s almost magic, what the dark can do to a mind.

Do you have any creative pockets in your day? Are your children good at going to sleep?

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