One Way I Shut My Monkey

I’ve been listening to Danny Gregory’s “Shut Your Monkey” podcasts. The monkey is Gregory’s name for the voice in his head that is always protesting or warning him not to do something, the voice I think of as my inner critic.

You may have heard this voice yourself. It’s the voice that tells you you’re too old to start piano lessons, don’t have enough time to take a painting class, should never sing because you’re tone deaf, and have more important things to do than write a short story.

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Gregory’s book and podcast are both about recognizing and overcoming this voice. In December of 2014, I first came across the online drawing classes offered by Sketchbook Skool. Danny Gregory is one of the founders, so it’s both surprising and fitting that, when I wasn’t sure if I should sign up for a class, I used writing to deal with the monkey’s paralyzing voice.

I’ve been interested in drawing since I was a kid, but I rarely let myself draw. My monkey is always there, pointing out that my drawing is never as good as someone else’s. When I think I just need more practice, the monkey argues that I will never be good enough and that all the time I spend sketching is wasted.

This voice was so loud as I agonized over whether or not to take the SBS Klass “Beginnings,” that I got out an art journal and gave both my inner artist and my monkey space to have their say.

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By the time I had finished, I knew the truth: my monkey was afraid — afraid of everything and anything, but really, that was all that was holding me back. Fear.

Fear of failure, fear of making a mistake, fear of getting laughed at, fear of not being good enough. Underneath all the warnings and predictions, my monkey was saying, “I’m afraid.”

My inner artist’s voice was about wanting something I’ve wanted for a long time. It said, “I want” with deep, heartfelt longing. And my frightened monkey yelled back, “Too bad! You can’t have it!”

In the past, the thought that I might be wasting time or money was enough to hold me back. Understanding that these arguments were based on fear changed everything for me.

I don’t want to live a life built on fear. It’s a cold, limited, drab life. Better to take the risk, so I did. I signed up for SBS and took my first Klass in January 2015.

Looking at everything the voices in my head were saying helped me to shut my monkey. I listened to my monkey rant until he ran out of things to say, then I took the class anyway.

Do you have a monkey/inner critic? Have you found ways to get past its warnings and distractions so you can do the creative work you dream of? Please share your monkey stories here.

An Upsetting Book With a Happy Cover

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Some of my favorite books are books written for children around 10 or 12 years old. Decades after I discovered them, I still love to re-read The Phantom Tollbooth, The House with the Clock in its Walls, and The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues. As an adult, I sometimes dip into today’s kid’s lit in hopes of coming across something to add to my favorites list.

This is how I wound up reading Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder. It’s a bored-rich-girl-becomes-challenged-poor-girl story where both her parents are alive and also redefining themselves. It was both silly and real, and it was a fun read. The main character Penny loves books. Most of what she knows about the world she learned from stories she’s read. So it isn’t surprising that she constantly comments on things around her in terms of children’s books.

I laughed out loud when I read this:

Maybe Duncan was like an upsetting book with an ordinary, happy cover. Maybe he was Bridge to Terabithia. —in Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder.

I remember being floored by the tragic story in Bridge to Terabithia when I read it as a kid. It is most certainly “an upsetting book with an ordinary, happy cover.” Penny Dreadful was full of passing observations about children’s books that I know well which is one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. It was fun to read a new story while be reminded of old ones.

I know there are lots of other adults reading young adult and even children’s fiction for pleasure. Which kid’s books are your favorites? Are you still reading kid lit today?

Brighten Your Day by Bringing Sunshine to Others

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Summer is the season of sunshine. I live on the prairies in Colorado, and we have sunshine in abundance year round. But I can’t get enough of it.

It’s not only a question of generating the vitamin D I need to live.

Looking out a sunny day lifts my spirits. A walk in the sun with my dog warms my body and my heart.

Today I suggest sharing your inner sunshine with another. Let your warmth shine in someone else’s life. Being kind feels good, so brighten another’s day.

The sun will shine all the brighter for you.

Happy summer.

Your Mistakes Define Your Style

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I’ve got a new obsession: bullet journals. It’s really a combination of old obsessions — list-making, planning, and books — all coming together in a different way. As with any new interest, I’m in the process of learning all about it. I’m reading blog posts, watching how-to videos, and examining images of other people’s systems to see which ideas I might adopt for my own. I’ve even joined some Facebook groups. I find a well-run closed group is a great place to ask questions.

What does all of this have to do with mistakes?

Yesterday, I saw an FB post from someone who is just starting their first bullet journal. She admitted she’s a perfectionist and went on to say that she messed up her first journal so badly that it is now her practice journal. I was OK with that. What I wasn’t OK with was her declaration that she will not let herself write a single word in her new “official” journal until she is certain she can do it perfectly.

That broke my heart, because I know what it’s like to be a perfectionist. As desperate as we might be to achieve perfection, we are all human. We never can and never will be perfect. If I made that sort of deal with myself about a project, I would never begin. The fear of making a mistake would freeze me in my tracks and kill any enthusiasm I had for the project dead.

This morning, I ran across this great quote:

The higher up you go, the more mistakes you are allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it’s considered to be your style. — Fred Astaire

I love that idea that our mistakes are actually our style. It fits perfectly with everything I’ve been hearing from Sketchbook Skool about embracing the mistakes I make in my drawing to the encouraging words of many of the bullet journaling experts.

Bullet journals are customized, hand-written planners. They are prone to all sorts of mistakes, from typos to calendars with the wrong number of days. A recent favorite I saw was someone who kept spelling Wednesday wrong and decided to overcome the problem by not trying any more.*

We all make mistakes, especially when we are learning how to do something new. I know not everything I am trying in my bullet journals (yes, journals; I have two already) is going to work. I have written things in the wrong space and scratched it out. I have started layouts I am not sure I need. I keep changing from all caps to lower case and back again. So it’s a little messy, but it’s also real.

Which is good enough for me.

Do you struggle with perfectionism? How do you deal with it when you make mistakes?

*She wrote “Wedareyouf*ingkiddingme” instead.

Unexpected Fiber Finds While On Vacation

I recently went on a road trip through the Midwest with some good friends. Our itinerary included national parks, museums, and gardens and included a lot of unexpected stops when something caught our eye from the road. When asked what I wanted to see on and do on the trip, I didn’t have much in the way of ideas. I expected there would be lots of great scenery and that I would get to do some birdwatching and maybe even some sketching.

What I didn’t expect was to trip over cool spinning and knitting stuff along the way.

I’m not talking about supply stores. The only shopping we did was at gift stores and to buy groceries. I’m talking about finding fiber-related things in the places we happened to go.

The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures in Kansas City, MO turned out to have world-class miniatures on display, more than we could see in the hour and a half we had before the museum closed. We are not talking doll house furniture played with by children (although they have some of that as well), but miniatures made by artisans and admired by avid collectors.

I was in awe of the size (tiny!) and detail (exquisite!) of the furniture, glassware, ceramics, and woven rugs on display. Then I came to the hand knit clothing and it blew my mind. Cable-knit sweaters? Color-work sweaters?! and only two inches high?!? Look at the pictures, and you’ll understand my amazement.

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Some intrepid knitters must have used wires to make these

 

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This tiny gem fits in the palm of your hand.

I also found a tiny spinning wheel. I wonder if it works?

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If you look in the reflection at the top, you can see my fingers. It gives you and idea of just how small this spinning wheel is.

I should have expected to see fiber art at the T/M museum; I just wasn’t thinking. But I also came across a yarn bomb project in the last place you would imagine: The Mammoth Site museum in Hot Springs, SD. While it’s not as elaborate as a traditional yarn-bombing project can be, I loved the idea of a yarn project that anyone could be part of.

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A truly wooly mammoth.

It never occurred to me to include fiber art as part of my vacation plans, and I’m kind of glad I didn’t. I enjoyed these finds all the more because I wasn’t expecting them.

Have you come across fiber projects where you least expected them? What were they and where did you find them?

When Charity Doesn’t Extend to the Rental Car Agent

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I watched a woman yell at a rental car agent at the airport. I was returning my car, and because of an earlier snafu, I needed a signature before I could get on my plane. I was in a hurry and a little anxious to be waiting in a line I hadn’t planned on waiting in.

As a result, I got to witness a completely unreasonable woman losing it. “This is unacceptable! I’ll never rent from you again!”

Why was she so upset? She insisted she’d been assigned a minivan for a compact car rate by the man who made her reservation. When she heard how much a minivan is supposed to cost, she badgered the agent, telling him, “I won’t stand for this. You have to do better.”

So the poor guy did. Apologizing endlessly, he beat on his keyboard until he had knocked nearly forty dollars a day off her rate. She seemed pleased.

Then he went over the contract. When he told her that her rental period would cost her 140 dollars, she lost it again. “He promised me I could pick it up now (9 AM Saturday) and return it tomorrow at 9 PM for the cost of one day.”

The agent stared at her with tears in his eyes. The poor man was so thrashed by her words, he was nearly crying. Once again, apologizing profusely, he explained that anything over 24 hours would cost her an additional day’s fee.

Anyone who has ever rented a car knows that this is how it works, but this woman acted like the agent was insane. That’s when she promised never to use his company again.

From things she said, it was clear she was doing work for a children’s charity. She needed the van to haul packages to a hospital, or party supplies to a venue. Something of that nature. So concerns about keeping costs down would make sense. Maybe this is why she was so angry, so combative, and so abusive.

Maybe.

After she was gone, he had another customer to help before he got to me. Despite the minutes he spent with a normal, decent customer, the agent was still trembling when I reached the counter.

She was that nasty.

I was as kind and polite as I could be, though I had my own annoyance about the delay I’d been put through by my rental hassles. I wanted very much to comfort him, to apologize for the angry woman who apparently has very limited ideas of how to be charitable. But I also feared that he would fall apart if I empathized, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t want that.

On the plane, I was able to think of the words I should have said to him. “Ignore her. She was being unreasonable and irrational. None of it was your fault.”

Weeks later, I wish even more that I had had the courage to speak up at the time.

Not to him, but to her.

I wish I had been brave enough to challenge her attitude, to embarrass her in front of others for behaving even worse than a frustrated toddler. I wish I’d had the courage to defend the man who, because it was his job to please the customer, couldn’t speak up for himself. I wish I could have stopped her abusive behavior.

It’s easy to feel sorry for others, even to share their pain, but it is much harder to stand up and defend them — to stop the people who are hurting them. If we are going to show true compassion for others, we must go beyond feeling and act. We must find the courage to speak up and help one another.

Today, members of 1000 Voices of Compassion are blogging about courage. To see a list of other posts on courage and compassion, click here.

Making Room For Making Art

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I’m having one of those times when I can’t seem to get anything done. I’m not even sure why. Is it my health that is causing this severe lack of enthusiasm for anything? Is it the huge list of household chores that is draining my interest? Is it merely those lazy days of summer that’s slowing me down? Perhaps it’s all three.

Whatever the cause, my creative projects have all slowed to a snail’s pace. I can’t seem to focus on my novel. Last week, I got so distracted that I forgot to write a blog post, and when I realized I hadn’t done it, I didn’t care. I want to spend time in my studio sewing or drawing, but when I get there, I can’t seem to find anything I really want to do.

When I get this disconnected and feel this lost, I turn to Julia Cameron’s books for insight and advice. This time, I read the first chapter of Walking in This World and as always, she had something to say that I really needed to hear.

There is room for art in any life we have — any life, no matter how crowded or overstuffed, no matter how arid or empty. —Julia Cameron, Walking in This World , p. 16

It doesn’t matter if I’m sick, or tired, or busy, or it’s summer. I can make space for art. It may be a tiny space — five minutes — or a silly project — knitting a sweater for a dinosaur — but whatever I do will help. It will keep me connected to my creativity and make it easier to take advantage of it when my enthusiasm and energy return.

In the meantime, I’ll do what little I find that feels good. I’ll add doodles to a letter for my nephew. I’ll wind yarn into balls, enjoying the feel and color. I’ll read through my novel notes to keep the story in my mind. I’ll keep listening to my heart to find out what I really want to be doing. Once I know, I’ll make time to do it.

Do you struggle to find time for your art? How do you restore your enthusiasm when you are worn out?