Gratitude Can Become a Trap

We had a friend over last weekend for sketching, snacks, and mead, and over the course of the evening, the sentence “Gratitude can be a trap” came out of my mouth as I was discussing my life after having my daughter and leading up to losing my job. And I realized the truth of the statement. If you always feel grateful for what you have, even when life turns extremely difficult, the gratitude can easily become an opportunity to not process emotions properly or to allow situations to continue long past the point they should. At least, that’s how it worked for me. I have a wonderfully supportive and hands-on co-parent in my husband and my mom took time off after the baby was born, on top of help from other family and friends. So when I felt overwhelmed in my recovery, I buried those feelings in gratitude and told myself “It can be so much worst, I have no right to complain.” And I believed it. And because my previous employer allowed me to have the baby with me, when the nigh impossible job I had actually became really impossible, rather than complain, I just kept plowing ahead and told myself how lucky I was to get to have the baby with me. It became this kind of feedback loop that helped contribute to tunnel vision that got so severe I couldn’t even tell when I started working myself sick.

I don’t want to downplay the role of gratitude in my life. It’s really important. But it’s a passive virtue, and therein lies the crux of the issue. The passive and the active have to be balanced against each other, rather than allowing either one to dominate your life to an extreme, and I think the action that should accompany gratitude is another ‘g’ – generosity. Generosity of spirit. Generosity of love. Practiced both outward onto the world and inward toward one’s self. Because if you are generous towards yourself, you won’t allow people to drive you to your breaking point. You won’t drive yourself to your breaking point.

What are your thoughts on gratitude? Have you ever felt yourself in a similar situation? Do you find yourself falling more into a passive or active attitude toward life, or are you fairly well balanced?

Life and Love and Creativity

I have been absent again from posting here lately. The baby has been teething and starting her one year growth spurt, and I have also snuck away on a few short trips with the family, visiting the 1000 Islands and Buffalo/Niagara Falls. It is so much work to travel with kids, but the time with friends and getting close to nature was well worth the effort. I feel more grounded, more accepting of the current state of affairs in my life, and ready to allow myself to expand again after feeling retracted for so long.

My time to create has been so short, and this was one of the biggest things I had to come to terms with. Almost all my efforts right now are going into creating my sister’s wedding dress and jewelry. The only writing I’ve been doing lately is an occasional email or letter, and I haven’t had any time for music or painting. Because my energies are being poured into my family and into the work that allows us to survive, and that is where they need to be right now. Because the love I have for my family and the joy I experience witnessing my children grow makes the sacrifices worthwhile.

All this to say that my creativity is not gone; the fire has merely been stoked, waiting the right opportunity to blaze once again. In the meantime, I will guard my embers and feed them as I may.

 

Taking Responsibility for My Life Path

I’ve still been feeling rather stuck on where I want to grow next creatively and career-wise in life. There are excuses, some more valid than others (lack of sleep due to baby – very valid excuse), but I realized lately that I’ve partially been sitting around waiting for some signs from the universe. Aside from allowing myself to be trapped in an office job for about a year and a half longer than I should have let myself be back in the early 2010s, my life path has always progressed organically. I’ve mentioned before that I decide I really want to try something out, and it happens. Opportunities come up and I take them, and they may not be specifically what I had planned, but things progress. I work my butt off, gain experience, and that’s what life is for me. Taking opportunities as they come. But before I decide I want to do something, I spend an insane amount of time hemming and hawing and waiting for a nudge or hint that I’m doing the right thing. Sometimes I get involved with very serious doubts on whether it’ll be good in the long run but just trust that I’m meant to be at certain places at certain times. A healthy way to live life, I think, but I’m pretty sure I don’t get to have it that way this time.

I have to take action myself. I preach taking personal responsibility and I know that there are inherent human freedoms, and I have to now step fully into the weight of that and take charge of my life. Which means deciding what I really want. Which is something I’ve always had a difficult time doing. And I find it doubly so now, because beyond a vague desire to “be creative”, what I really want is more time with my family. Which we’re working toward, but I miss that ambitious drive to push me through on projects.

I think I also have always wanted outside validation, a stamp of approval that my work is good. All of us creatives have that to a certain extent, don’t we? I want to march to the beat of my own drum, but I want other people to be tapping their hands along to the rhythm. It’s almost like my whole life I’ve been looking for permission to create the way I want to. And if I didn’t get that outside validation, I kind of just stopped pushing forward with that side of my creativity. Which is a tough thing to admit, but it’s true.

So I have a lot still to process in these realizations that hit me a couple of weeks ago. But processing through this is A Big Deal, and this will lay the groundwork for the next part of my life. A life path I will choose wholeheartedly. It will still be eclectic, and I’ll probably still be all over the place in my creative instincts, but it will be mine.

Freedom’s Just Another Word…

I came across this quote recently from the author David Foster Wallace that I thought was interesting, because it’s the exact opposite of what most people think of when they imagine freedom.

The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.

The truth is I have found more internal freedom than I ever thought possible through having my kids. I’ve grown so much in making space that includes family and deep soul connections in my life. I’ve lost fear. Which is the biggest freedom there is. So even though I can’t go out partying if I get the urge, even though I can’t blow my paycheck on concert tickets and new clothes, even though I frequently put another person’s needs before my own needs and almost always put someone else’s needs before my wants, I am free or on my way to being free in the ways that truly matter.  Sometimes, though, I very badly need the reminder, and so this quote hit home.

What are your thoughts on freedom?

Also, the title of the blog post comes from the Janis Joplin song “Me and Bobby McGee” which I’ve always loved singing along to.

Job Opportunities and Future Creative Endeavors

I have a job offer that I am accepting. It starts in a couple of weeks. I’ll be the one working full-time again, while my husband will continue his part-time position he found for a few months at least to replenish our savings a bit and continue freelancing from home while watching the baby. And we’ll see how things go.

As it seems to matter less now that I keep these two sides of my lives separate, I will discuss my former job and my future job. I was working as a theatrical costume designer and costume shop manager at a local theater before I was let go after getting sick and being unable to complete the costumes before a show opened. Costume design is what I have my training in, and it’s something I really enjoy doing when I am working with people that are good to work with. But the entertainment industry is one that is really easy to be taken advantage in, to burn out, to deal with all kinds of crazy personalities, and to drive yourself into the ground. If you want to check out my work (and learn my real identity – ooo) you can see my portfolio page here. I need to update my Bio page eventually, as all I did was remove the section about where I had been working, but I’m in no rush to do that yet. I also have a tumblr blog where I occasionally post pics of me wearing vintage and repro vintage outfits as a kind of soft-marketing for the custom work I do here.

My new job is going to be doing bridal and formal gown alterations and helping to grow a second shop to it’s full potential. I’ll be making the same rate of money, even bringing in a little more possibly, and I’ll get to work from home part of the time. And the hours, while possibly getting crazy during prom season, won’t be anywhere near what I was putting in every time we led up to a show opening at the theater.

So, pluses are my family and I get to live at the same level of comfort we were at before, maybe even better because we will be able to start building our savings up again. I’ve worked with this woman and in this shop as a freelancer several years ago when I was freelancing show by show at the theater as well, so we have a relationship and I really admire her. I’ll get to help people feel beautiful and confident on their big days, and I’ll still get to be creative in making the bustles of gowns (which I actually love doing) and some custom work as it comes up. I’ll have more time with my family and more energy to put into my own creative work. And I’ll get to surround myself by pretty fabrics and dresses almost every day.

Cons are that after working in theater, almost everything else feels boring by comparison. There are so many little problems that need solving, so much fly-by-the-seat decisions that need to be made, that it is difficult to move at a slower pace. This is why I’ve said in the past that I have two speeds – 100 mph or not moving at all because I overworked myself. So maybe this is actually a plus, because I’ll be forced to modify my way of doing things. Anyway, the other con is that costume design is this blend of everything I enjoy doing – reading and analyzing scripts, historical research, psychoanalyzing characters, inputting all of that in my brain and sketching out ideas, collaborating with the scenic and lighting designers to best realize a director’s vision, occasionally doing fancy renderings, having to read actors to get them to want to wear what I want them to, and then buying/sewing/renting the costumes and making sure they all fit nicely and the actors can move in them the way they need to move. All while on severe budget and time constraints. Doing alterations won’t engage me in the same way. Again, possibly a plus because it will leave me room in my brain for my own projects to be bubbling away, and it will also allow me to focus on my further growth as a human being, allowing me to listen to podcasts and lectures while I work and to just daydream a bit more than I’ve had the opportunity to do in recent years. Another con is that some of my work at the theater was put into helping in our local school district, occasionally going in and working with very poor, at-risk students. We would also pull some of those students into shows we were doing sometimes. Now I won’t have that direct interaction in the community that I felt was really valuable, so I have to find a way to add that back in again somehow.

All this leaves me with having to decide where to put my few hours a week of creative energy. If our positions had flip-flopped and I was the one freelancing from home, I would have tried to build up my sewing business, doing alterations, yes, but also coming up with some kind of line. I could have made a lot of money off of vintage-inspired kids clothes but probably would have quickly gotten bored with it too (cutting the same thing over and over isn’t exciting), and I’ve been leaning toward creating a custom corset and costume line since grad school and have so many ideas for it. But I don’t know if I’ll feel like sewing a lot more after sewing so much during the week, and it feels silly with the world being where it is to put a lot of energy into corset making. I also have two big commissions for the year all ready lined up which will take a lot of time. So I may still dabble at creating a line of things to sell, combining pieces I’ve already made with new pieces, but I doubt that I’ll be motivated to move very fast on that end. So I’d like to focus more on work under this name, as I move to fully unblock myself. I’ve been loving painting this abstract, and may do a couple of more before tackling those bigger pieces I’ve been putting off for years. The writing… I have to see what will happen with that. I have enough poems to probably put together another collection, and I’ll have the time now in theory to try to get out to some poetry readings. The fiction is difficult. I read through some old story ideas and I am really interested in a lot of them, but with reality being so much like fiction these days, I’m having a really hard time wanting to delve into it. I’m not going to push myself too hard on that front, because I can’t force myself, but I will write something every week. And music – I’m building myself up on that front too. I probably won’t try to start pushing myself more until the baby is a little older and weaned, but I want to have that in my life again. Maybe I’ll combine the writing and the music and start writing my own songs again as a means to get back into writing. I don’t know. It’s all kind of up in the air right now. I need to continue to give myself permission to play, and I am trusting that it will sort itself out.

So that’s where I’m at. We’re going to have a rough transition into me being out of the house as the baby definitely likes me better than daddy at this point, and I’m sad that I can’t be a happy housewife for a while longer. But it will be good. I am glad that we’re going to survive this bump, and I feel like I got a nice little 2.5 month extra maternity leave and the chance to fully heal, which is more than so many people get. And I’m also proud that my work ethic stands on so firm a footing that upon posting that I got fired from my job, I was made a job offer with no questions as to why I was fired (we did discuss it later on). This is also the second time that someone wants me so badly that they are creating a position in order to have me. Having me available is the impetus toward someone else pushing forward in an endeavor, and that feels really great.

Life Changes Yet Again

I apologize for not posting for a long time. This past project I was involved on was brutal, and I wound up working myself sick, the project had to be completed without me, and it cost the organization extra money to do so because I wasn’t there to see it through. And yesterday, I was “let go”. Mistakes were made by everyone, myself included, but I was the most expendable one and I suspect that sacrificing me is an effort to protect themselves. So be it. I was overworked anyway, with no time for self-care or for working on creative projects that felt more important to me, and it took so much time away from my children. And the organization has shifted to being very different from what it was six months ago, and a “dream job” soured fast.

So, lesson learned. Sometimes you can’t do it all. I’ve grown a lot through the work I’ve done there, I’ve gained so much confidence, tested my strength (both physical and of character) time and again, and when I finally broke, I’ve had so much support from my family, both blood and soul. The amount of love I am receiving and am giving back to others right now is incredible.

I am going to take some time, focus on healing and on my relationships, and then I’ll start creating again. I’ll have a lot more time to devote to projects that I do under this name going forward, as the baby will allow me, and I think I’m going to promote my freelance custom work under my specialty more. I have been granted a gift of time that I didn’t expect to have, and I will make the most of it.

Getting and Keeping Organized

I am a messy creative who thrives on organization, which is something of an oxymoron but is the absolute truth on how I operate. When I’m in the middle of a project, whether it be painting or sewing or baking or sculpting, the act of creation itself is mess-inducing. When I’m writing or making music, I get distracted from everything else. So piles end up building up – a stack of paperwork here, paint that hasn’t been put away in two weeks over there because I only get a short time to work, etc. I will then slowly drive myself crazy until I reach a breaking point and need to organize everything in my life. The problem, though, is that when projects keep coming, I don’t have the down time to organize my life in useful ways. So one of my goals while being out on maternity leave is to lay the groundwork for keeping myself organized. I’m starting in my workroom (eventually I’ll want to invest a couple thousand dollars into this area, but we’re a few years down the road so I’m making due with what I have in the meantime), which is where I keep many of my supplies, and I’ll hopefully have time to get to the arts and crafts and music area – but we need to buy some shelves first for that. So what am I doing?

  • Continuing the unpacking process – there are still boxes and boxes from my move in April
  • As I unpack, I am questioning everything I have kept in the past. Will I use this leftover art supply or scrap of fabric or bit of yarn, or should I toss it out or donate or try to sell it? There is no reason to keep things I can’t repurpose and use up.
  • Find a home for everything that I am keeping that is easy to get to (ie. not stacking bins so high that it’s a pain to put something away in a bottom bin, etc.). Label the homes if necessary.
  • Decorate my workspace to make me want to spend time in there.

All this is of course challenging with an infant, so I’m really only chipping away 30 minutes here and there. But to continue on my organization efforts, I’m also organizing myself electronically which I can do one-handed while nursing or holding her sometimes. My project right now is going through my oldest email account and saving emails I want to save on my harddrive and unsubscribing from way too many companies – places I bought an item from once or twice and get bombarded with offers from, restaurants we never go to, and so on. It was a bit nostalgic for me, because I unsubscribed from a bunch of businesses in the Los Angeles area finally. It is bittersweet. I really loved being out there in my mid-20s, and I had a good time. I’m happy with the life I’m building here, but there were so fewer responsibilities ten years ago. One of those responsibilities is currently sprawled across my lap napping right now as I twist myself in an odd position to write this blog so the laptop isn’t too close to her.

It will be a long time until I’m fully organized because I’ve got areas of unpacking and sorting in my personal life too, but as long as I can really designate a spot for everything to go, picking up the pieces of my creative whirlwinds will be a far easier task.

“Don’t You Just Love Being Pregnant?!”

I am wary of women who love feeling pregnant, much in the same way as I am wary of those who are able to orgasm during labor. Tons of respect toward both groups, but also a sense of “what the heck is wrong with you?”.

While I experience some moments of pleasure in feeling the children I carry move within me, and while many aspects of the process are interesting because I find our bodies fascinating in what they can accomplish, the process of being pregnant is not one I greatly enjoy. My first pregnancy, I had huge patches of itchy, scaly psoriasis flare-ups covering my abdomen and back and hands, and terrible bloody noses all winter from the inflammation I was suffering. This pregnancy, I’ve been very short towards my loved ones without meaning to be, suffered several months of an almost robotic-like absence of emotions, and because my job is so physically demanding, have had some pretty bad aches and pains throughout. And my not-yet-arrived daughter has been incredibly active the entire time, which can lead to some not quite pleasant sensations. Not to mention the typical pregnancy issues that I’ll spare you all. And I consider that I’ve had it easy compared to many of my friends.

But pregnancy is a means to an end. A cute and cuddly end. So I will deal with being short of breath and tired and cranky, and thankfully my husband is so far putting up with me being so as well. I was talking with my son about how I couldn’t do certain things now because the baby has gotten so big, and he said “Mommy will be back to normal soon” and I laughed and responded “I sure hope so, sweetie,” while thinking that ‘normal’ is a relative term for me. For now, I feel like an overripe piece of fruit, ready to burst at any moment, and dealing as best I can.

Anyway, I know I haven’t been posting much here lately, and I don’t know if that will change going forward into this first year of being a mom of two and still trying to create good projects. But I’ll make the effort when I can. And as I slowly start returning to what passes for normal for me, I will do what I can to grow this site a bit more.

The Human Waves of Happiness and Pain

I’ve noticed in recent years that our individual happiness and pain (which we all experience throughout life as that is kind of the point of life) goes up and down in waves, but that our waves do not necessarily align with other individuals or with the world as a whole. Tragedy can strike across town on your wedding day, just as you are feeling the happiest you’ve ever felt in your life. You can lose a loved one on a day that your best friend is graduating or giving birth. You can have met the person of your dreams just as your sibling is finally nailing the coffin in their marriage. And it’s hard from both perspectives to be able to be fully present for the other, isn’t it?

There’s the old saying “misery loves company”, but I don’t think that most people willfully feel that way, going out and deliberately trying to ruin other people’s days. Some do (and I know some of those toxic people quite well), but I think most of the time, when you’re down and out, you just can’t help but get caught up in the comparison game. Why is this person so successful when I have the same training/experience? Why is this person’s art or writing selling when the work I’m doing is at least on a comparable level, and I’m barely able to bring in enough to pay for the materials? Why does this person have a solid love relationship and I’m doomed to single life? I experienced this a couple of years ago when my husband and I were the poorest we’ve ever been as adults – seeing friends of ours who were making substantially more money and moving on in adulthood was difficult, having to turn down invites out to eat or drink because we couldn’t afford to was humbling, to say the least. I never outright resented my friends for being better off than we were, but there were lots of feelings of “Oh, what I wouldn’t give…” or “Oh, what I couldn’t do with those resources/opportunities/etc.” and it was difficult on the hardest days to be really happy and excited for other people. Or the other person’s happiness winds up reminding you of something you’ve lost, so it triggers feelings of regret.

Conversely, when things are going really well in our lives, most of us dislike being reminded that other people aren’t doing well, especially when it’s people we care about. Our joy and happiness seems tarnished by the knowledge, somehow, because we all have that initial urge to make something about ourselves rather than about the other person. We don’t want to feel pain in a moment of triumph. But it’s important to be compassionate and empathetic to those around us. And I experienced this when I was pregnant with my first child. Several people close to me suffered great personal tragedy. Others less immediate loss, but still were going through really rough times. And it was during this time that I really learned how to experience the grief and pain of those I care for without allowing those feelings to diminish my personal joy.

Recently, a coworker of mine whom I was getting friend-ish with and felt a connection to has backed off from where we’ve been, almost immediately once I announced that I was buying a house and was pregnant. I know that they are in the midst of personal struggles and that my domestic happiness is a reminder of what they no longer have, but I feel a sense of loss at a potential amazing friendship. See, I like and love a lot of people, but the number of people I count as being close to me is a very small number. It’s a defensive mechanism in many ways to keep that distance from others. So to have someone that seemed to have the potential of being a part of that select few back away makes me a bit sad. But because I have already thought through all of this in my head, I’m able to just give the coworker the space that is needed. If we become friends in the future, great, and if not, hopefully whatever connection existed served the purpose it was suppose to serve. At the end of the day, it’s not wholly, or even mostly, about me. And being able to realize that has been a great boon in navigating this crazy life.

This, I think, is the real point of “practicing mindfulness” and “living in the moment”. You can repeat New Ageisms until you’re blue in the face, but until you switch from a passive to an active mode of living those phrases, until you learn to navigate not only your highs and lows in life but the highs and lows of the people around you, then the words are mostly meaningless.

Some Personal News and Reflection

I’ve inadvertently had another brief hiatus during January, haven’t I? Well, I have a good-ish excuse – I’m expecting my second child. I’m just at the end of the first trimester now, and for those of you have never experienced it, the first trimester is often accompanied by deep fatigue. Add to the mix an iron-deficiency that exhausted me even more (which I self-corrected with a diet change) and a very hectic schedule leading up to a big project at work (which finishes tomorrow), and also the stress of dealing with buying-a-house paperwork, and I’ve kind of let everything else fall by the wayside. I’m looking forward to a slight increase of energy during the 2nd trimester.

It’s strange, the differences between my two pregnancies. I feel much better with this one thus far. I’m far healthier than I was last time, my psoriasis has been under control for years, I’m very active at my job so even when I’m too tired to exercise I’m still getting some exercise daily. But my last one, I worked as a receptionist and so could just mentally check out during the day at work but still get my work done. It didn’t matter if I was exhausted, as long as I was awake enough to process paperwork and answer the phones. My position now involves actually being in charge of stuff that I can’t let slide. Which makes it difficult. Pregnancy brain is real! The other big difference is that for almost 6 weeks of the first trimester, I went into “robot-mode”, where I felt really flat about everything, no emotional highs or lows, which is the complete opposite of the emotional swings I felt the first time. It was strange, feeling almost numb, and probably was tied into the iron-deficiency because I feel much better now.

It’s also strange how pregnancy forces you to slow down, both physically and mentally. Your body will let you know if you move in a “wrong” way, or if you start trying to go too fast, bringing you up short of breathe. Your thoughts just start to wander sometimes. As an example, I started working my way through Kant’s “Critique of Practical Reason” back in December as a good mental exercise for me. It is not a long work, but I’m barely able to read a few pages at a time on my Kindle. Granted it’s been a decade since I’ve read anything similar, so getting back into scholar mode would’ve been tough regardless, but the pregnancy brain is making it much more difficult. I’ve also let a lot of my creative and spiritual practices slide because of the exhaustion. Still being creative through my main source of income, but I just haven’t had the energy to do a lot on the personal side of things. Meditation has been difficult with the wandering mind, or I just tend to go inward to feel myself and the baby and do some self-healing. Which is maybe as it should be right now. I need to feel self-insulated and cocooned against the outside world slightly as a protective measure. Hopefully, though, with the close of this project and moving into the 2nd trimester, I will be better capable of keeping up with my practices.

Anyway, even though I will get back into regularly blogging here again, I won’t be posting a ton more about the pregnancy here. Maybe one describing the labor and delivery if I’m brave enough to share. I think it is important to share a little, though, because even though this will probably be our last biological child (replace ourselves), I really believe that having children is the ultimate creative project I can accomplish in life. Raising decent, whole human beings is a lofty goal, but a worthwhile one. And as this blog is about creativity, it’s important to me that I connect the two. Every creative process and period of growth for me is like the birthing process. I guess I’ve just always become the stand-in mother for any group I’ve been in. Nurturing and protecting and sometimes pushing people for their own good is an innate part of who I am. An incarnation of the Earth mother.