Lighting My Creative Fires

I adore talking to people about their creative projects. Hearing about all different types of creative projects in all various stages of projects gets me going, energizes me, and makes me want to create more myself. And because I get so enthusiastic and genuinely interested, it can help energize the people I’m talking to as well.

Which is why I am bummed we missed out on our annual New Year writer/artist retreat this year. We’re hosting a gathering in a few weeks where I’ll get to hopefully get some good creative conversations in, but since I’ll be playing host to a lot of other people as well, I don’t know how much inspiration I’ll get.

That being said, if any of you would like to share what you are working on, please do! You can keep details vague if you are afraid someone may steal ideas, but I would love to get excited for you and then use that to fuel myself.

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.

Project Mayhem

I am wrapping up one insane project at work before having about three days to get another one on it’s feet (I’m determined to do this in a way that gives me Saturday completely off… we’ll see if I manage it). While I managed to not have to pull any complete all-nighters, I’m sore and tired, clocking over 75 hours last week and will have put in between 50 to 60 this week. And while I will do my best to only put in 20-30 hours the next two weeks to rest up and use some of those extra hours I’ve banked, I’m in talks to take on a freelance project with an outside company because it is a lucrative offer with a local-ish company that could provide further opportunities in the future, and hey, I’ve got some spare extra hours now.

It is crazy that I put myself through this, absolutely crazy. Any spare moment that I have not been working, I’ve been spending with my son or sleeping. I haven’t exercised, meditated, done my morning pages, played any of my instruments, or touched any personal creative projects. I’m going to have to shell out for a massage because I’m so physically strained. And I only made one brief Facebook post on my personal page about Baltimore and haven’t really had any time to contemplate the earthquake, which is not like me. The company I’m working for really overextended itself on this one for the size that it is, unaware even til last week of how large the project had actually grown. And I asked a coworker why we put ourselves through this, what kind of sado-masochist tendencies actually allow us to simultaneously love and hate what we do and to repeatedly put ourselves through the blender, and her response was “Well, it’s the challenge, isn’t it?” And that is absolutely true. Someone lays out a project for me, and even if my initial response in my head is “You want me to do what?!” but in the back of my mind, I’m already trying to figure out a solution. I love accomplishing the impossible. But is it stupid that I do this? I don’t know. At least my current employer is willing to listen when I say “If we do this again, we need to do XYZ because this was almost impossible to do.” And they will provide the resources whenever they can.

I do not enjoy doing puzzles or playing a lot of games for entertainment. I would much rather be sitting at the table knitting or sketching and talking with people while they play. I think that life, for me, is the puzzle and the game, and I find strategizing and solving real-life problems in creative ways infinitely more interesting and satisfying. Again, I don’t know what that says about my personality.

Next week, if I don’t dive into the freelance project, I’ll take a couple of days to heal up and get into my own space again. And take steps for the next project to minimize some of the crazy.

How My 2014 Started as a Farce and Now Ends as a Farce (And a Year End Personal Review)

Many of you may not remember (or were not yet following), but last year’s Artist/Writer New Years retreat ended early due to septic issues at the cottage we were staying at. And now, to end the year, we are spending our New Years Eve not at the cottage as planned. Yesterday, my son came down with a fever and chills, and he spent much of the day just cuddling me. Turns out some relatives were sick over Christmas and neglected to tell us before we showed up. My father-in-law also came down sick, and we were going to be leaving my son with my in-laws. So we contacted our friends and warned them that we might be cancelling last minute or bringing our son with us. Remarkably, my son’s fever broke before bed, and after watching him closely through the night, we decided he would be fine to come with us to the cottage. Then, our friends call while we are on route to say there were white out conditions in Buffalo so they would not be joining us until tomorrow during the day, if it clears. Then we hit lake effect snow ourselves and opted to spend the night at my husband’s aunt, where we were heading to get the key to the cottage. Better safe and having a quiet night than having us get stuck on the road or take three times as long to get to the cottage on unplowed roads. If the snow clears, we will head out tomorrow morning and at least get one night of a retreat in, with or without our Buffalo friends. We also plan to try to do these retreats quarterly again, if we possibly can.

So, thanks for reminding me to remain flexible, 2014. Thank you for the not-so-subtle reflection on the unpredictability of life and the importance of going with the flow. I will definitely keep those lessons you’ve taught me in mind as I move into 2015.

Anyway, how did I do in 2014, as far as creative projects go? I think fairly well. While I did not complete nearly the amount of art or writing that I wanted to, I managed to release The Cephalopod Maid and several new art pieces. I wrote and shared several poems (and wrote a handful more that I didn’t share). And while I wish I had accomplished more, I have a really good reason for not. And that reason is that I’ve found myself getting more and more work in my former creative field and unexpectedly have a career again. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to earn money doing something I enjoy (most of the time), but both the work and keeping up getting more work requires a lot of time and effort. So I keep working on my writing and art at the pace I can, and I have to accept that as being enough.

As far as personal growth goes, I succeeded in fulfilling my 2014 goal, which was to learn to move despite fear. I have experienced a lot of inner development that would take pages to articulate, and I’m not sure I can explain it all, so I won’t. But I experienced a rebirth that was simultaneously painful and wonderful (much like actual birth), and I’ve settled into who I am as a human being and an artist for the next several years of my life, at least. Not that I’ll stop trying to grow, but I feel a confidence that I’ve never really had before and that feels really good. Now to see just how long that confidence will last.

Anyway, happy new year to each of you. I wish each of you many profound moments of joy in the coming year.

Project Run Down

  • My freelance work with the shop has been going well! Amazingly, since deciding my attitude needed to change, I have dealt with all pleasant personalities who were grateful for the work I’ve done, even when I found it less than perfect. So two bad clients out of more than 30 at this point are stats I can deal with. The shop owner is perhaps a little less helpful than I would expect given the cut she’s making off of each of these clients, but I’m not mad that she’s milking me for what she can. Just aware, and taking steps to protect myself and not be taken advantage of. Next month (June), as it will be my fourth month doing this work, I plan on keeping strict track of my hours and calculating the exact breakdown of how much I’m earning. Then in July I will decide if I want to keep going forward with the work or taper it off.
  • My work in my former field is heating up. There have been the typical crazy issues that, again, used to bug me, but now I’m just laughing them off. It is what it is, and I’m seriously getting paid to do what is playing to me, making crazy things and sharing them. So, as long as I’m not getting screwed over, I’m letting the crazy just wash over me and entertain me. It is an amazing shift from where I was five years ago. The only downside at the moment is that this job has me dealing with things I am absolutely allergic to, and I had a psoriasis outbreak so I’m now dealing with a lovely scaly rash on the inside of my arms. I haven’t gotten too into my issues with psoriasis here, but perhaps I should in another post. After being diagnosed in 2010, I did a lot of research, and I manage without the use of steroid cream or drugs. But if I can’t do this job without breaking out every time, that is a health issue that I can’t really ignore. Something I need to think about.
  • Writing – I finally am scheduling time to finish up The Cephalopod Maid this weekend. It WILL be uploaded on Monday evening, so expect links sometime next week. I haven’t had time to work on the graphic novel at all in recent weeks, but I will start carving out a little time every day for that as well on Tuesday. I’m still doing morning pages a few times a week, but my evening journaling has flown out the window.
  • Art – I decided to put a freaking train in the background of my Sarah Aaronsohn painting, so I’ve been spending some free time sketching trains. I’ve put a couple of more layers down on my abstract painting. And one or two of the four projects I’m doing in my former field will have me painting as I want them for portfolio pieces. I think I need to schedule one day a week to do flash pieces, though, because I’m getting discouraged about not having time to spend on the long term projects. So if I say – I have one hour, and I need to have finished something in that hour, go! – and at the end of it, I’ll have created something, whether it’s a sketch or fast painting or playing with pastels again or maybe even sculpting. It will make me feel more accomplished and give me something to post here, because I’ve basically run out of old projects that I want to post.
  • Music – I was very bad (letting myself get swamped in work and taking on too many clients at the shop) and went four weeks without playing my piano and 2 1/2 weeks without playing my flute, but I’ve gotten back into it last week. I’m really pleased with how my tone on my flute has progressed since the first of the year, and it’s not just because I finally cleaned it. I don’t have time to push myself on the music front more at the moment, but it is on my mind a lot. And I don’t want to find other musicians to play with until we decide where we’re settling.

So where does all of this leave me on deciding what to do for the future? Well, I’m moving forward in looking for more work in my former field, but I’m going to be much choosier about the projects I take than I was as a fresh-out-of-grad-school young professional. I can’t afford to take just any project, especially when it’s a sacrifice of time with my family. As far as where we’re going to settle, my husband has started applying everywhere he can for creative marketing-type positions in the northeast of the United States, looking for a job that can baseline support us while whatever I bring in freelancing will pay for our son’s education/extracurricular activities, build our savings, and be our “extra” money for travel, business ventures, and (gasp!) actual real vacations. We’re kind of leaving the exact “where” part up to fate. Maybe we’ll stay in upstate NY, maybe we’ll fulfill the dream of living in New England, maybe we’ll be moving down close to or in NYC. Or maybe he won’t find a job at all, and we’ll have to re-evaluate our plans after a couple of months of futile searching. In the meantime, we’re doing the best we can, which is all anyone can do.

A Status Report

So, one of the reasons I started this blog was to hold myself accountable on my way-too-many projects.

  • The Cephalopod Maid round one edits have been completed, and my husband has given it a once over as well. I haven’t touched it since he has though because I can’t think about major edits at the moment as my attention has been focused on…
  • Redoing my portfolio. I have an interview next week in my former field, and another company is reviewing my materials, both for work later this year. The portfolio redo is based on a wonderful and eye-opening meeting I had with a higher up at the company I was doing contract work for last fall. I will hopefully be done with this by Saturday, as my interview is scheduled for early next week.
  • For the portfolio, I’ve been painting the past week and 1/2 to finish a project I started back in 2007 (mentioned it in an earlier blog post).
  • I have made steady progress on the story for my graphic novel.  I’m estimating I’m between 1/3 and 1/2 way through. I’ve basically been writing a single scene at a time whenever I can.
  • I’ve started the research on my first Dangerous Women portrait.  Once I do a bit more in depth research, I’ll do a post on her. I’m already super excited. Yes, I’m a major history nerd. Deal with it.
  • I’ve begun playing my flute more frequently. Also music-related, I’ve begun researching, collecting, and singing more jazz music. I’m trying to get up the chops to see if any local jazz groups would let me sit in on a set with them occasionally or even just jam in rehearsal, just to get me used to performing in front of people again.

Unfortunately, my main goal this spring is to take on as much paying work as possible to build our savings up, which will give us the flexibility to relocate to wherever we decide we’re relocating to. So I am not going to give any tentative release dates on anything, other than to say The Cephalopod Maid will be soonish, and my goal is to still release the first three Dangerous Women portraits and at least one longer work of fiction by the end of 2014.