Saturday, July 23, 2011

Rails, Tracks, and Creative Work

I promise not to turn this blog into a diet and exercise blog—if I’m ever tempted to do that, I’ll start a new blog. And maybe a recipe blog separate from that! And maybe some day, I might integrate all my selves into one single blog, and let the chips fall where they may. Very Golden Notebook of me (a Doris Lessing reference to a book I could never slog all the way through).

However, in the spirit of honesty, I feel the need to write a follow up to yesterday’s post, which made it sound like my summer of reclaiming lean and fit and healthy Kristin was going smoothly with no bumps. And I promise to tie it all into creative practices.

For a month, everything was going swimmingly. I counted calories, exercised daily (often several times a day), and pounds came off my frame. Then, last week-end, I just went off the rails. I had my crafting group over on Saturday, and I used that as an excuse for all kinds of yummy eating: cheeses and high fat crackers and wine and samosas and pasta salad and lemon pound cake—oh my. Sunday was difficult too, because I wanted to eat all the leftovers.

On Monday, my weight was up, and I tried not to panic. I got back on track. I commiserated with my spouse, who said, “I’ve been counting calories for one week, and I gained three pounds!” I went back to what works in terms of nutrition and exercise, and for a few days, I ignored what the scale said, as it fluctuated wildly. I did what I know works.

Of course, I had to ignore all sorts of inner voices. There was the one that said, “What fun it was to eat with abandon. Let’s do that again!” There was the one that said, “Oh, what is the point. Why not just regain all the weight and be done with it. That’s what always happens eventually.” There was the voice that said, “I can’t believe how stupid I am. Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

I tried to pay attention to the kind voice in my head, the one that loves me. She says things like, “Have some carrots. You’ll feel better if you turn away from high fat cheeses.” “You’re going to sleep soon. Save that wine for tomorrow when you have a meal that the wine will accentuate.” “I know these extra exercises seem impossible, but just give them a try.” Instead of seeing how far I have to go, she’s the voice that congratulates me for what I’ve accomplished.

At the risk of sounding mentally unbalanced, I see a similar dynamic with my creative work. I have the voice of the inner critic, who tells me how stupid I am and how off track I’ve gotten. That voice focuses on all that I have not accomplished. That voice mocks my earlier dreams of a published novel, of a book of poems with a spine, of all the things I can’t quite pull together.

My kind voice focuses on what I have done, how amazing it all is. My kind voice tells me I haven’t done the other things yet. My kind voice reminds me that there is still plenty of time.

As with spiritual periods of doubt and dryness, the trick is to just keep going. Ignore the mean voices that tell you it’s all pointless and do the daily and weekly practices that have worked. Write your daily pages. Take pictures that might inspire later poems. Read the work that inspires you. Keep a gratitude journal. Send out your work to publishers and let someone else decide its worth, even if you’re convinced that everything you create is cruddy. You may not be the best judge of your work, especially during a dark period.

If your dark period persists, perhaps it’s time to try something else. If the novel seems to have died on the vine, put it away for a month or two (but do not destroy it!), and write some poems. Let your creative self try something completely new: take a break from writing and do some quilting or cooking or metalworking or painting or carpentry.

Honoring what brings us joy and making time for it—that’s key. If blogging delights you, but your inner critic says it doesn’t count, ignore that voice. If writing poems makes you happy, keep doing that, even if your chance of being poet laureate seems slim right now. If you’d like to spend a month researching London for a novel you might never write—why not? If your short story mushrooms into a novel, lose yourself in that new world you’re creating.

As long as you’re honoring your creative self, I think you’ll be OK. And you might discover new joy.


Kathleen said...

Love your advice leading to joy! And I have been thinking of the golden notebook aspect of our blog lives, too. Hang in there (or hang on there, little tomato!)

Kristin said...

This tomato shall keep holding on, and ever trying! I'm wishing the same for you! I'm off to comment on your blog.