I was recently asked to be on a podcast about creative women in recovery, called The Unruffled Podcast. The hosts, Tammi and Sondra, asked me to come on to talk about how I manage a full-time job as well as many creative pursuits. I love this podcast and was so thrilled to be asked to be part of it. Sondra and Tammi are heroes to me. They are women my age that I look up to tremendously. Yesterday as we talked, I had so much fun, as if I was chatting to my girlfriends. I was anxious, and a bit jacked up on adrenaline and when Tammi prompted me to give tips on how to balance full-time work with creativity, I gave a less than complete answer. I don’t even remember what I said, but it for sure was not the list of things I had prepared that were RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME! I decided that I had to supplement that interview and that’s what this blog post is all about.
I have always been creative, but there are many seasons to life, and the time I have had available to pursue craft has varied from minimal to abundant. My need for creative time has varied as well. As a person that is not making money off my creative work, I have the flexibility to do as much or as little as I like. Creativity is a form of meditation, an opportunity to learn new skills, a source of pride, and a way to beautify my life. Right now, as a sober person, I spend a lot of my free time being creative – it’s how I want to spend that time. Also, my children are 17 and 22, so they require less care and time from me than if they were babies. Please take the suggestions here that make sense to you for the time you want to, and are able to, devote to creativity and leave the rest behind.
1. A space of your own – I am fortunate that I have a large craft area that takes up about half of the lower level of my house. When I lived in an apartment, I had my craft area in my bedroom. A dedicated craft area makes beginning so much easier. If you have to go down to the basement, sift through boxes in storage, haul that up to your dining room table and put it all away before you go to bed, you are unlikely to ever want to do that. That sounds like chores. If you have a spare room, that’s obviously a good choice, but many people don’t. Depending on what you like to do creatively, you may be able to assemble a wardrobe to contain crafts and make them easily accessible. Another option is a cart, like the IKEA Raskog cart shown below. For my embroidery work, I like to keep everything in this plastic container that I can put on the couch next to me while watching tv. Similarly, I keep knitting projects in portable bags that I can haul wherever I choose to work. At a minimum, clear out a drawer and keep a small stash of supplies ready to use when you have some time.
2. Have portable projects – I have several portable projects going at all times. Because I love to knit, I usually bring knitting wherever I go. I always have many projects in process, but some are better suited for portability because of size and need for focus. My most common bring-along project is socks. It’s a small project and I can do most of the sock with my eyes closed. This keeps me, a chronically early person, from losing my mind while waiting for my chronically late friends. If you are not a knitter, you could bring a small sketch pad and pencil or pen. You could bring a bullet journal and markers, even a small scrapbook project. Sometimes you can just bring a small part of a project with you. Once you are prepared for it, you will see minutes add up with all the many times you have to wait. Below are some photos of actual portable projects I have taken with me.
3. Sign up for classes, workshops, creative trips – Sometimes people struggle to fit in creativity day to day, but can easily find time for a dinner out. There are so many options for workshops and classes. I have been to paint nights, terrarium building, stained glass, steeking (knitting technique), yarn dying, kokedama making, and more. I have plans to sign up for a workshop to learn how to build a table. I have friends that have taken glassblowing and knife making. These have all been incredibly fun, creative adventures. Some of the work I have made in these classes is shown below. Not all of it is worthy of display, but that’s not the point.
Another option is a creative weekend. I have participated in two types of these events. My first creative weekend away was a scrapbook weekend, called a crop. These are far more fun that you can even imagine. Some of the best friends I have I met through these weekends. I always looked forward to them for months and was so filled with creative energy for weeks afterwards. I have also gone on weekends away for knitting. I host a knitter’s weekend every May at my house for my dear friends. Maryland has a huge sheep and wool festival and some of the most beautiful yarns around are available for purchase. I am also trying to arrange a creative weekend at my house for a few friends. No plans, just working on whatever creative projects we desire.
4. Schedule it – Sometimes, busy people must schedule something if they want to do it. I know that I have to schedule when I clean out my closets and when I go to the gym or those things don’t get done. At this point I don’t have to put creativity in my schedule because it is my default, but when my kids were little and I was in graduate school, I did have to schedule that time. I talked with my husband and said I’d like to work on crafts on Saturday mornings until 10 am and I’d like him to watch the kids. I was very motivated to wake up early to have my time! Another option is to schedule at times you don’t need help, like maybe every Tuesday after the kids go to bed for an hour or two. You’ll be surprised how quickly it becomes a routine that you wouldn’t want to miss. I do want to stress that I don’t recommend over-scheduling yourself with this to the point you don’t get adequate sleep. I love to wake up very early to create, but I go to sleep early too. It’s not sustainable to be sleep deprived, nor is it going to add any value to your life.
5. Reframe how you see creativity in your life – I like to cook every day. I am a good cook and I know how to mix flavors to make something taste good. I don’t always make masterpieces, but approaching cooking with a creative eye influences the way I make even mundane foods. I like to mix up colors of foods. If I make a salad with green lettuce, and orange carrots, I’ll choose a red pepper or red onion to add more color. I will add a unique seasoning to a food to see how that changes it. I’ll make an “Asian inspired” coleslaw or pasta dish. These are small ways to bring creativity into chores. Other examples include arranging books on my dresser in a pleasing fashion, growing succulents on my window ledge in the kitchen that I care for when I do the dishes, writing my shopping list with nice lettering, and adding handmade labels to pantry items. At work, I am lucky to have a creative job designing experiments and analyzing and compiling data into a publishable format, but there are times when my mind is not engaged. I doodle and come up with creative ideas in down times or during excruciatingly boring meetings that could have been handled by email.
6. Enjoy your creative time – However you decide to fit in creativity, enjoy it. If you enjoy this time and feel good about it, you will find more time to do it. Do not spend your time fretting over your lack of skill in a particular craft. Do not criticize yourself or your work. We get into the habit, especially at work, of evaluating things on a purely practical level. If you paint a picture and it’s ugly (I’m not your mom, so I’m not going to tell you they are all beautiful), throw it out, but also know that the time you spent creating it still has value! Creativity is valuable in and of itself. No useful product needs to come out of it. Making sand mandalas is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition that involves making and dismantling a mandala made from colored sand. The art symbolizes the transient nature of all things. You can practice non-attachment to your work by creating impermanent art. Another thing I do is to look at new crafts in the same way I would with doodling. I have been trying to make a decent watercolor landscape for a while, but they all turn out juvenile. This is okay, because luckily I have another source of income. However, when I sit down to try one, I have no intention of keeping it. I practice brush strokes and adding layers and getting better at subtlety. And then when I have had enough, I appreciate the time I had to play with paint and throw it away like a doodled napkin. But I am improving.
I hope some of these ideas will work for folks who want to be creative, but find it difficult to manage with a busy life. I have found that creativity grounds me and allows me to be more efficient with my time all day. No matter how much time you have to spend creatively, whether it’s hours every evening or just a few minutes sketching the view from your office, you can start to satisfy that creative need in you by changing how you approach creativity in your life.
A friend that I used to drink with came over last night for dinner. We are still close friends and she’s very supportive of my sobriety. She asked me a question that I’ve asked myself a thousand times. “Are you really not ever going to have a glass of wine again?” That question kept me drinking for a long time. It plagued me a few month ago when I didn’t even want a drink, but the thought of not having one ever was crushing. But something has shifted in me.
We have all heard of women that stay in or go back to abusive lovers. They don’t usually go back for the abuse, but for the times when things were good. When he was kind and sweet to her, when things were passionate and exciting. And then the abuse comes back because between the two of them, there is not good without the bad. The seduction of the good makes her forget about the pain of the abuse.
For me, wine was an abusive lover. Most of the time, it made me feel so good. It brought excitement and fun and laughter with friends. It brought relaxation and celebration and consoled me when I was upset. But sometimes, it made me sick, so sick that I’d have to stay in bed all day. Sometimes, it made me anxious and regretful and scared. Sometimes it even made me think that I was less than who I am. It took my time and my money and my self worth.
No one tells a woman, “Once you are stronger, you can go back to your abuser,” no matter how much she loved him. It’s clear that the relationship needs to be over, for her safety, forever. And the stronger she becomes, the farther she distances herself from him. The same is true for my relationship with wine. As I became stronger, a shift occurred in my perspective. I don’t stay sober because I know I am not strong enough to drink, but because I am so strong, and love myself so much that I will never take that abuse again. I deserve so much better. I will find other loves that will not abuse me. Right now in addition to my friends and family, creativity and being close to nature are my kind and gentle loves. I may change relationships over time, but I’m not going back to abusers. It’s over for them because I know my worth.
January is FINALLY over. I know lots of folks have felt like January was long, but it really can’t be longer than for people doing Whole30. I was really good about sticking to the program, except for that bit about the coffee. I had a lot of things I wanted to do in January and I kept track in my version of a bullet journal chart.
I completed all my monthly and weekly goals. They are pretty simple goals, but help keep me on track with things that I want to do all year long.
As for my daily goals, I think I did really good! I did something creative everyday, did my gratitude list everyday, and had a >90% success with washing my face/tidying up every night, and did pretty well with reading a book each night before bed. The yellow boxes indicate nights that I started to read and only made it for 5 minutes or so because I was too tired. Red ones I missed altogether. I am very pleased with those results. Below I have added a gallery of my some of my favorite creative endeavors and gratitude lists (also creative endeavors – tend to kill two birds.)
WHOLE 30: WHAT WILL I KEEP, WHAT WILL I RELEASE
I have to admit that I really got my sweet tooth in check by doing Whole30. But I did not feel good on this program. Not terrible, but not good. The literature on the program stresses vegetables and protein in your diet, and also fat. The fat and the protein does keep you full, but for me it was really boring. I missed grains and legumes so much! I do like being in control of what I eat, and eating whole foods. But eating all that meat didn’t sit well with me. And it was so expensive!! My weekly grocery bill is usually ~$150 or less. Last week, I spent $238. Way too much! I think the thing I liked the least is that I had no joy in eating. I was spending more than every on food and not looking forward to a meal. Whole30 proponents would probably counter that food is meant to nourish you, not make you happy. That’s true, but I like a little bit of both on that one.
I plan to keep going with whole foods and lots of fruits and veggies, but I am adding back whole grains and legumes right away.
One thing that I forgot to say and came back to edit in is that I lost 4.6 lbs and one inch off my waist this month. That should be said because it definitely got the ball rolling.
I posted about my February practice here. I will update soon with how it’s going.
I changed my mind on my DIY project for January. Why? Because grout is boring and I didn’t feel like doing it. Instead, I chose something that would have a big impact on my home and bring in more color, which I love. I recovered my sad, stained padded dining chairs with colorful cloth I bought online ages ago. I know this is a very easy project, but I put it off a long time, I had never done this before, and I actually had to google some things to get it done (like how to load the staple gun…)
This is the before picture. Lots of food and drink stains. I’m willing to be the one in the middle is red wine. Anyway, this is 4 years of use and hey, they are WHITE seat covers. What do you expect, people?!
The steps to reupholstering a chair are simple:
1. remove the covered pad from the base of the chair.
This is the underside of the IKEA dining chair. All you have to do to remove it is unscrew those 4 screws.
2. Remove the current cover from the seat and measure it.
Make sure to measure both the narrow and wide ends of the chair cover. Look at those cute handmade socks that made it into the photo!
3. If your fabric is printed, find a way to get pleasing parts of the print oriented on your chair and mark the fabric with pencil on the back. I added 2 inches on each side (4 inches per direction) to ensure that there was plenty of overlap. Then cut out each cover. Before I cut the other three, I made sure the first one fit my seat on all sides.
This is the gorgeous, pre-ironed fabric. LOVE those colors!
4. Iron the fabric. I hate to iron too, but I would hate looking at the same stupid wrinkles for years more than ironing. The fabric I used is a thick upholstery fabric so I used a bunch of steam to get the wrinkles out.
5. Wrap the ironed fabric over the seat and ensure placement is correct. Staple it down, pulling really tight on the fabric to keep it taut.
Much nicer finished project when I drink the LaCroix than wine. Also, I kept all my fingers.
6. Screw the seat back onto the chair base and admire your beautiful work.
All four chairs took a total of about 2 hours to complete. Not too shabby.
Each month I plan to do several practices:
- Write an honest-to-goodness real letter to someone. I have a penpal now, and I am enjoying writing to my grandmother.
- Take a hike with Pi. This will be a new practice, but I already know that I want to do this at least once per month.
- Clean a closet/drawer.
- Watch a documentary. I love documentaries, but when I think to watch them, I often choose something trashy instead. With a goal of once a month, I hope to help myself become a decently educated, compassionate person rather than root for the least jerky of the real housewives.
- DIY home project – this will be fun! I have so many ideas for this, and will post about them as they arise.
It is now January 10, so I best have a good start on them!
1. I already wrote my letter – to Tammi Salas. It feels so good to send actual mail out with a stamp and an address on the front. If you want to receive a letter from me, use the contact me portion to send me your address privately.
2. I took Pi on a hike! I didn’t bring my camera because it was so flipping cold, but here is one of me right before i took off.
It was pretty cold, but we did a good three miles. I would have gone longer but his little feet seemed cold. And I couldn’t feel my face.
3. Clean a closet/drawer. I have a very loose interpretation of this. I chose the large shelf in my en suite bathroom for this month. I had old things on the shelf and the shelf itself was pretty dusty and needing love. I have a few photos, but I was a dummy and didn’t get a true before shot. I might need a class in how to write a blog so appropriate photos are included.
This shelf gets extremely dusty and those little grooves are a bitch to clean between. This level of tortuous detail could only be brought about by the folks at IKEA.
And here it is all dressed up and ready to go. It makes me so happy.
4. Watch a documentary – I haven’t watched it yet, but plan to watch “There’s something wrong with Aunt Diane” on Amazon Prime this weekend. It is a movie about the 2009 wrong way crash that killed a mother and seven others on the Taconic Pkwy in NY. I have heard it is incredibly difficult to watch, especially for those of us who have had our own issues with alcohol. But whenever someone says something like that, I really want to see it.
5. DIY home project! Ok, this one is not a lot of fun, but it is manageable. I plan to decide my February project early so I can choose something more involved. I haven’t started yet, but before I bought my house, it was pretty much completely renovated. The people did good work, but the grout around the bottom of the shower is coming out. It needs to be replaced and sealed with silicone (I think – gonna research other opinions first), but I will do that and it will be beautiful before the end of the month.
Anyone out there have projects of your own? Any documentary or DIY project suggestions for me for upcoming months?
This weekend I will post an update to my January Whole30 PRACTICE and announce what I have chosen for February – very excited about it!
Hello Wildflowers! How has your 2018 started? Mine has been going great despite VERY cold temperatures here in Baltimore. I have had a great week starting and continuing with practices that feel good to me. Here is a graphical glimpse at my progress:
Yay! All green! This weekend I will tackle some of my monthly goals. It won’t be the hike with Pi one, that’s for sure! It’s way too cold for that. But I am going to be alone (gloriously ALONE) tonight, so I think I will watch a documentary and write a letter. Feels good to tend all the areas of my life that feel good to me. Oh, and at my sober meeting (AA), I got this:
But I am struggling with the Whole30. The true purpose of using this program is to get my sugar intake under control. I am not a person who thinks that sugar is poison, because I know what poison means and it really isn’t. BUT, it is a substance that is highly addictive and mindless use of sugar leads to increased habitual use. That’s where I was and why I decided to do something about it. My nature is overreaction. When I decided to start running, I trained for a marathon. I make things BIG! I do tend to follow through, but I’m sometimes miserable in the midst of it.
Whole 30 may have been an overreaction as well. I wanted to control my sugar intake and now somehow I can’t use anything with soybean oil in it. I have to ADD fat to my meals in the form of plated fat. Ok, ok, that’s how they do it. I’m just saying that I maybe didn’t need a formal program that addressed many, many food issues, when all I really wanted to address is sugar.
What am I liking with Whole30?
I like that I am not craving sugar. I like that I’m actually not very hungry most of the time. I like that I am eating loads of vegetables and an apple tastes like the sweetest treat, just as it should! Despite the fact that I miss pasta, I am happy that I am not eating it. I feel better without it. I like that we bought a fridge full of veggies and they are almost all gone. I mostly like that I feel in control of what I am eating.
What I am feeling whiny about but still able to do?
I miss legumes most of all! I love black beans and it is definitely black bean soup weather!!! I miss grains a lot, especially rice and quinoa.
What do I need to change up?
This is going to be very unpopular. And please, for the love of god, do not report me to the Whole 30 enthusiasts, as they will surely troll me until I die. I am going to put cream in my coffee. There I said it. I actually went out and bought, spend good money on, the coconut version of creamer because loads of enthusiasts raved about how delicious it was. Either they have never tasted cream in their lives, or they are fucking liars. Because it tastes awful! I drank my coffee black for this week and I could continue to do that, but I prefer to have a happy life.