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?

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Fight or Flee

I tend to go back and forth between wanting to just hide away in the woods somewhere, creating the art and writing and music that I want, nurturing my family and friends, and living as sustainable a life as possible verses working deep in the midst of people and areas that need to be woken up, shaken free of their trapped selves, and being an active member of the community.

Most of the time I balance the two, retreating when I need to, but pushing outside my comfort zones when I feel necessary. But I feel like when I swing one way, I’m neglecting the other. I don’t want to wholly move into one way of living over the other, but I’m struggling lately with the urges to swing in the opposite direction coming more frequently than usual. Not very good for accomplishing projects.

But I’ll work through it. I always do.

Which way do you find yourself swinging as a creative? Are you out there in the forefront, or more comfortable hiding away and protecting yourself?

Nearly Almost Had It All Career-wise

I had the opportunity come up to work on a big project that is currently being done locally. Someone from that project contacted one of the higher-ups of my organization, they recommended me, I sent in my resume and my hours that I would be available, and they forwarded that email to the appropriate person on their end. I was excited, because it’s a side of industry that I haven’t gotten to do since 2009 and it would have been my first time doing it at such a high level. Not as a creative lead, but the process would have given me so much experience that I was willing to overextend myself to make it happen.

Then it came. The email from the person that was the creative lead. And it was a firm job offer sitting in my inbox. I could have been head of the department, but I was needed for 12 hour days 5-6 days per week for five weeks. And I had to turn it down. I again offered the hours that I could commit to for a lower position, and I recommended a few other locals that could potentially fill in too, but they wound up bringing in a non-local. My town just isn’t a freelance town. We can’t clear weeks of our calendar on two weeks notice. Even when I was freelancing full time out in CA, I would run into this though. People wanting me to commit on days’ notice when I was usually booked months in advance.

There were bitter feelings on my end, for a little bit. I hate turning down opportunities. Hate feeling trapped. And my ego flared a little, wanting to say yes just to have that on my resume, just for bragging points to boost my opportunity for marketing myself online a little. But that bitterness was short-lived, which honestly surprised me a little. I have such a great blend of job security and creative freedom with the organization I’m at now that I would be foolish to sacrifice that in the name of my ego. I have a huge project I’m working on for them that wraps up when this other project would be finishing, where even if the other project had taken me up on my offer of working partial days or one to two days per week I would have been taking away from the quality of my work for my regular employer. And honestly, with wanting one more child soon, I don’t want to get back into that side of the business yet that requires me to work 12-16 hour days away from my children. Yes, I’m working days like that sometimes now, but I can do some of it from home or after my son goes to sleep. I can have him come into work with me. I fully plan on having my next child at work with me for most of the first 6 months, and my work is going to be fine with that.

There is a part of me, though, that mourns the loss of that parallel-life me that focused everything on business, just as there is mourning for the parallel-life me that was 100% a stay-at-home mom. Staying the middle course has given me so much joy and growth as a human being, but it also comes with frustration and exhaustion from the constant tug-of-war. I try my best to avoid asking “what if’s” in my life, but every once in a while, maybe when the veils thin, I feel my other selves on their paths, and I feel a longing for their experiences in addition to my own.  It’s very strange.

Anyway, I’m not entirely shelving the option to branch into that part of my field sometime in the future, and I won’t stop offering my assistance when the opportunities come up as much as I’m able to, but it will be more years down the road before I am willing to sacrifice the time away from my family. And that’s okay.

Creative Projects In Progress

Writing – I made a significant leap forward in my graphic novel draft this morning while my son was playing by himself. I am now fully into the climax, which is exciting. I may actually finish the first draft this week, barring any unforeseen draws on my time.

Painting – I now have four small gouache paintings in progress, and I’ve managed to throw several more layers onto each over the past couple of days while my son watercolors. It is an activity we can do together for twenty minutes or so. I’m getting close to being finished on two of them, but the other two will require a lot more detailed work. I love working in watercolors and gouache, but it is a time-consuming medium for me.

Music – I transposed an exercise for my flute and played it through along with several other pieces on Saturday, which made me very pleased with myself. I’ve been much stricter with myself in recent months of actually practicing scales, and this has greatly helped my technique build back up. My voice lessons and singing more have helped the musical shaping while I play flute too. And yesterday, I got to go and play my piano for the first time in over a month, which was this huge stress release for me. I have my first voice lesson in over a month this Friday, too, which I’ve been practicing for. My vocal instructor has been traveling and I’ve been busy. But I’m excited to move forward with him this spring and see where it will take me.

I’ve also been settling into my full-time hours at work. I actually have some extra hours banked, which means I’m trying to keep myself around 30 hours a week for the next couple of weeks to make up for it before we go into really crazy times for the rest of April. I am really excited about the things I will get to create for this next project, though, so that is a plus. Thus far, I’ve done a decent job at balancing work and family time, I’ve made a concentrated effort to keep a regular meditation and exercise routine up, and I’ve even squeezed in a little bit of socializing time. I’ve been less good about keeping up with household/organizational chores and paperwork, but if something’s going to slide, I’d rather it be those things anyway. Less important in the long run, in my opinion.

Anyway, progress on most fronts, which gives me satisfaction. And hopefully I’ll have more to share with you soon.

Career Verses Motherhood

My place of employment where I am part-time salaried and freelance on certain projects is pushing me up to full-time hours for three months starting in a couple of weeks, and they should know soon if they will keep me permanently full-time (all depends on whether certain funding they are hoping to get comes through or not). And I am having mixed feelings on the matter.

On the one hand, I’m really excited. Between the full-time hours and the extra freelance fees, I have a chance to make an actual, grown-up living wage for the first time in my life, from one place of employment, plus fairly decent benefits (as far as working for a non-profit goes, that is). My hours will still remain flexible, in that some weeks I’ll work more and some weeks I’ll work less, and I can still do some of the work from home, but the bank of hours that I draw on will literally be doubled. The projects that are planned for the coming year are incredibly interesting and varied, and having the full-time hours will give me the time to really go in depth on those projects and do the high-quality creative work that I enjoy doing.

On the other hand, it is twice as many hours that I have to work, which means less time spent with my son. Less time to work on personal creative projects. Having to really lock myself in to quality time with both my son and my husband because otherwise I will get too distracted by work and forget. Less time to cook and bake for fun. Less time to take on freelance projects. It means I have to fully relinquish control of the household to my husband (which I’ve already done a lot of) for all of our sanity, which is a rather difficult thing for me to do. But the potential lack of time to spend with my son, even though it is way more than many other parents get to have, is what aches the most.

The dreaded Mommy Guilt is something that will never go away. Balancing everyone’s needs and wants is a difficult task, and one that I’m not entirely sure I’ve accomplished. But we’ll take things as they come, as we always do. As we have to do.

Walking the Inner Balance Beam

My life is shifting in some big and rather wonderful ways, on a lot of fronts. I will hopefully be able to get more into specifics on that in my next post, but basically, if I can focus myself and keep really organized, I can make full use of the opportunities that life is thrusting at me. And I want to. I’ve made vast organizational strides the past couple of weeks. I’ve also set myself back on a regular creative schedule. And I’ve carved out quality family time too. But now, my brain is rebelling, in a very self-sabotaging way.

Internally, I am a creature of contradictions, a walking oxymoron. Hot-blooded and passionate and emotional while simultaneously cold and logical. Wanting order and structure and everything in it’s proper place in my daily life but needing mess and chaos to create (seriously, when I paint or draw, smudges always end up on my face, and when I bake, flour gets everywhere). Craving a sense of belonging while needing my independence. Knowing basic truths – about myself, those I’m connected with, and all of humanity – through my intuition but questioning the validity of that truth since I lack hard facts to back up the intuition. Empathetic and caring until I get overloaded and then I have to step back, so I send mixed signals to others and end up feeling as though I’m separated in a bubble of my own creation. Highly sexual and sensual but with a strong moral compass and also exuding purity to the point of almost having a Snow White effect on animals and children (and some adults). Business-oriented but with the need for regular playtime. Feeling confident in my abilities while feeling that confidence waver if I don’t get positive feedback. Wanting to nurture and love while also wanting to aggressively go after what I want in life. The artist constantly struggling with the intellectual. And so these contradictions battle for control, and I’ve struggled to find and maintain balance and usually successfully walk the line. With the new position and path I’ll be taking, though, all of these mental struggles are rising to the surface.

But it’s not just the inner balancing act that needs to happen, but the outer as well. Because I don’t live by myself, but in a family, and beyond that, in a community. So how does one decide what to give and what to take? How much can a person love and nurture and support others until they wind up being taken advantage of? How much can someone carve out time for themselves at the expense of others before it becomes selfish? And are those questions answered differently depending on who you talk to? And it’s when I get to this point that I realize my focus is gone and I want to just stop thinking for a while and retreat to my inner realms of fancy, which if I linger too long in, causes me stress and exhaustion down the road.

But I had an amazing realization last month and that is this: I am no longer afraid of myself and my potential power for change. It was a huge moment that began growing from a meditation last September, and it caused some shaky times in the following weeks as I readjusted to my new self-view. I accomplished my 2014 self-improvement goal, though, which was to learn to move despite my fear, and the world has now opened up a new path for me. I will not allow myself to throw these opportunities away or trap myself in old patterns of doubt and self-debasement, and instead will learn to balance everything with grace and strength.

The real trick is now that I no longer fear myself, I have to learn to trust myself, even with all of the inner dualities. That’s going to take a little more work.