9 keys to achieving your artistic goals? No! Way more!

Eric Maisel’s new book Making Your Creative Mark promises nine keys to achieving your artistic goals.

That’s a lie.

The book literally chimes and jingles with keys. The last eleven pages alone has 99 of them, for example these 10:

  1. One of the best ways to help yourself create every day is to craft a starting ritual that you begin to use regularly and routinely. When your ritual becomes habitual you will find yourself moving effortlessly from not creating to creating.
  2. Reframe discipline as devotion.
  3. Creativity is your teacher. Pick a creative project whose express purpose is to teach you something about your situation or your nature.
  4. If you regularly block, what do you think are the sources of your blockage? Do you block only on certain work? Do you block at certain points in the process? Do you block at certain times of the year? Become your own expert on blockage!
  5. Learn some anxiety management techniques. Anxiety makes us undisciplined. Learn a deep-breathing technique or a relaxation technique to help you stay put. Anxiety is part of the process – learn how to manage it!
  6. Don’t shrug away the fact that you’re not completing your creative work. Get to the last sentence of the last page of the last revision. Then launch your piece into the marketplace. If you are not completing projects, do not accept that from yourself!
  7. Do you have a plan to survive the countless rejections that will come your way? Create that plan!
  8. Create everywhere. Create in the rain. Create buy the side of the road. Create wherever you find yourself!
  9. Say, “I will astonish myself.” Then you’re bound to astonish others.
  10. There may be days when the work frustrates you horribly. Maybe you’ll downright hate it. Those are the days to love your work! Remember to love your work especially on the days you hate it.

And it goes on and on. The thing is that it goes on and on in that vein – the vast majority of his ideas are just really good, and not something you’ve already heard over and over again. Take what he says on anxiety. He devotes a whole chapter to stress and anxiety as it relates to the creative process. In it is a subchapter on The Stress of Marketing Art. Isn’t every creative person familiar with that? When I worked at the Alliance for Arts and Culture, advising artists on how to make money without going crazy, that was a topic we talked about a lot (kudos here to Judi Piggott, the patron saint of Vancouver artists, who invented and ran that program for twelve years). So what are the parts of that stress?

  • Thinking about selling your art
  • Not knowing what to say
  • Dealing with people who hold the power and the purse strings
  • Feeling pressured to “sell yourself”
  • Dealing with people who dismiss you
  • Not feeling up to asking

Does any of this feel familiar? Of course. And you may not even be an artist. And over and over he says, if this creates anxiety for you, go and find a way to deal with the anxiety. Don’t give in to it. That in itself is a pretty uplifting message. Maisel doesn’t give you tons of ways to deal with the anxiety; instead he points to one of his other books, such as Mastering Creative Anxiety. Oh yes, he knows how to sell his own stuff, so he knows what he’s talking about. And he has a lot of stuff – almost 40 books, seven of them fiction. And some meditation decks. And a home study course. And he’s a coach and a therapist with a PhD.

Honestly, I think every creative person should own at least one of his books. This man knows what he’s talking about.

full cup, thirsty spirit – a book about self care

it is important that we bow down to the breadth of our human experiences and to the larger mysteries that surround us. seeing beauty in the swirls of life’s busyness, making the most of what life brings our way, offering kindness to those around us, and being able to laugh from time to time. these gestures may be as grand as anything we can offer in our human life.

these are the parting words of karen horneffer-ginter in her book full cup, thirsty spirit – nourishing the soul when life’s just too much .full cup, thirsty spirit

like many of us, i have become weary of self help and motivational books – will this be another author telling me what to do, heaping platitudes on me, haranguing me to make endless lists, boring me with (most likely invented) stories about tracy the stockbroker and bruce the bank executive? you know what i’m talking about, right?

what a lovely surprise full cup, thirsty spirit was! it started with my eyes – i like a pleasing cover. the warm yellow and brown colours of a tea cup and pastel-yellow blossoms promised me rejuvenation and calm. if you’re still a “real book” reader like i – this is a book you want to have around, it feels good.

oh, and the words! they are all as lovingly written as the quote above. karen horneffer-ginter comes across as a gentle friend, someone on whose sofa you want to curl up, someone whose quiet wisdom will enrich your life.

this book is about self care, a topic about which i know quite a bit about, and something about which i preach to anyone who will listen. it takes quite a bit, then, for me to find new and interesting approaches. this book delivered just that.

i like the metaphors. she talks about thirst, one of our most essential drives, second only to the need to breathe. it expresses how much our spirit needs watering. how preposterous that we so often neglect such an essential call! the first chapter uses the metaphor of rhythm. she asks a lot of questions, such as

are there places where you get stuck in the movement between engaging in the world and turning within?

do i ever! i think there is a little part of me that rebels every time, that feels yanked back and forth: “8 hours for work! 3 hours for family! 1 hour for relaxation!” what if i want to work for 10 hours and then just … well, maybe swim around in my life, without being plonked into the next activity?

in turning within, she touches on how our use of language can thwart us.

if we had a socially acceptable language for naming “i’m unplugging today,” “i’m on sabbatical today,” “i’m going inward today,” this would be helpful. often when people say, “i’m taking time for myself” or “i’m taking personal leave today” the questions that follow suggest that we should be inserting some alternative activity into the day in order to justify our time off: “do you have a doctor’s appointment?” “are you getting caught up with some errands or yard work?”

that makes me think that “socially” acceptable can mean all sorts of things. we can wait till the cows come home until this sort of thing is acceptable in western society as a whole. but really, i don’t live in society-as-a-whole. i live in smallish societal circles, some of them overlapping, and why not experiment here and there what is acceptable, or even what i can make acceptable, simply by being the one who starts a particular use of language?

some years ago, when i was running a small but very vibrant and busy social service agency, i decided to emulate gandhi once in a while and have a day of silence in the midst of my busy work place. it didn’t mean that i wouldn’t work – i just didn’t talk. and you know what – it went well, and had a positive influence on everyone. that would be an example of experimenting with the notion of “acceptable”.

there are many, many gems in this book, and i honestly urge you to read it. i’ve been given a number of books to review here on this blog over the years – i think i’d put this in the top 5.

let me end with a quote from a poem by oriah mountain dreamer, which the author mentions in the chapter on embracing difficulty:

i want to know if you can see beauty, even when it is not pretty every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence

i want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “YES!”

personality tests

looking for a site with lots of personality tests? similar minds (link below) is not a bad resource for that. not only do you get the standard meyers briggs but also other ones. here is my cattell 16 PF result. the “16PF” refer to 16 personality traits. wikipedia will tell you lots more about it.

Cattell’s 16 Factor Test Results

Warmth ||||||||||||||||||||| 62%
Intellect |||||||||||||||||||||||| 74%
Emotional Stability |||||||||||||||||||||||||||| 90%
Aggressiveness ||||||||||||||||||||| 62%
Liveliness ||||||||||||||| 42%
Dutifulness ||||||||| 30%
Social Assertiveness ||||||||||||||||||||| 66%
Sensitivity |||||||||||| 38%
Paranoia |||||||||||| 34%
Abstractness |||||||||||||||||||||||| 78%
Introversion |||||||||||| 38%
Anxiety ||||||||| 22%
Openmindedness |||||||||||||||||||||||| 78%
Independence |||||||||||||||||||||||||||| 82%
Perfectionism ||||||||||||||| 42%
Tension |||||||||||| 34%

Take Cattell 16 Factor Test (similar to 16pf)
personality tests by similarminds.com

decisions

yesterday we went car shopping. after driving the sixth test car, in which we were quite interested, the salesperson made us a very tempting offer. we did the rational thing and retired for a family powwow to a nearby fast food place. after briefly going through the pros and cons of another car that was quite attractive, the decision to accept the offer came fast and unanimous.

then we finalized the deal, and the question of warranty insurance came up. my husband left the decision up to me. it had gotten dark outside, i was getting tired from a day of car shopping, and suddenly that decision, which was much less important, and involved much less money, suddenly began to wear on me. after 30 minutes of back and forth, we finally came to a decision on that one, too.

afterwards we went to an east indian restaurant. i hadn’t been to one for a while and chose to eat a bit more than i had planned.

(hold on, i’m going somewhere with this :) )

before i went to bed, i realized that i hadn’t done any exercise yet. what to do, what to do? go for a

the fool, a tarot card

image by ark in time on flickr

walk, use the stationary bike, or dance downstairs in my studio? argh! i hadn’t been outside enough and the stationary bike would be really easy, and my studio is beautiful! then i decided to just quickly draw a tarot card and drew the fool. pretty clear image: the fool is on a hike. so i went for a walk.

what i found really interesting was that each step underscored what we know about decision making:

the first step, when we decided to buy the car, was very much carried out along the lines of rational decision making. we gathered all the information, didn’t get swayed by cute arguments (“it has heated seats and adjustable cup holders!”) and didn’t act without reflection.

and then decision fatigue started to set in. i started getting tired, my glucose level went down, and things started to slow down.

by the time i reached the east indian restaurant and one of my favourites, palak paneer (spicy spinach with fresh cheese curds), was particularly well cooked, ego depletion was in full force – all my rational “muscle” was used up, and my food choice was made by that little gremlin inside of me jumping up and down, slobbering with anticipation of devouring yet another tasty morsel.

it was the last situation that i found perhaps the most interesting. typically i consider myself a happy and vigorous decision maker (note to self: ask family how delusional i am with that assessment.) and yet, here i was like a deer in the headlight – quick, tell me with way to go! it looks like indecision is not as well researched as decision . but there was another level to it: i knew at some level that i did not want to choose any of the options. but because a) i want to see myself as someone who engages in at least moderate exercise and b) the option of not doing anything was VERY tempting, i could not add that forth option. instead i head to tell myself that “i don’t know what to do.” i knew EXACTLY what i wanted to do, which was nothing! having removed my favourite option, the next best thing i came up with is to shift the burden of decision to someone/something else. i wonder how often that happens?

by the way, the walk was lovely. the moon, still almost full, poured a magical light over the neighbourhood full of sparkling christmas lights.

christmas, sin and innocence

kayden, a baby the christian story is one that keeps intriguing and baffling me. what is this thing that we’re celebrating today?

in the mountainous region of the german speaking alps, where i grew up, the image of the naked little baby jesus in the manger is the predominant one for the christmas story. maybe this is one of the things that pulls us so, maybe this is part of the new covenant: replacing sin with innocence.

not that i know what sin is, or what innocence is, but i have a sense of them: that innocence is the fresh, unspoiled purity of a newborn – oh, more than that: it is the embodiment of the deep, all-loving awe that inspires us as we see, feel, connect with such a precious being.

sin, on the other hand, that word makes me think of burden, of separation, defilement and the destruction of innocence – an image that comes up is that horrible one, of the newborn thrown out in the garbage.

this is extreme. both images, in fact, are extreme, and if we pitch them against each other, we will only experience unhappiness. what can we do, then, and, seeing that today is christmas eve, what can we take from the image of the newborn baby jesus?

i know that nothing will stay fresh or unspoiled forever – be it a newborn, a landscape, a beautiful object, a relationship. that includes my relationship with the divine. but what i also know is that purity appears again and again, and even more so, that i can always reach for that deep, all-loving awe. i can always keep my heart open for that, and that will, i hope, protect me. maybe not from the smaller burdens that i heap upon myself and others as i imperfectly walk through the day, unmindful and disconnected so often, hurtful sometimes. i fervently hope, though, that the knowledge, memory and experience of the purity of this all-loving awe will protect me from the ultimate sin of throwing away that wondrous goodness.

and that even if i do, there is a chance that the ever-returning purity of love and grace will touch me and awaken me from sin, that this awakening will come in the middle of that cold night and touch me with its light.

this is what i muse today, this christmas eve morning. may you all be blessed.

mental health and families

family members

image by gideon tsang

in the last few days i’ve had occasion to think about the families of people who are dealing with mental health difficulties. would love to hear your thoughts. here are a few questions:

if you are someone who has experienced consistent mental health difficulties -

  • how have family members helped you with it?
  • have they ever made it more difficult for you?
  • have you been able to give them useful information, and how did they deal with it?
  • who do you consider your family? (close) relatives, friends, members of your community, and/or… ?
  • what are your greatest hopes in connection with your family and your mental health concerns? your greatest fears?
  • how do you feel your mental health concern has impacted your family, positively or negatively?
  • have health professionals been open/interested in involving your family?

if you are someone who has a family member of friend with consistent mental health difficulties -

  • how has your family member helped you understand what is going on for/with them?
  • how has your family member’s mental health concern impacted your family, positively or negatively?
  • what are your greatest hopes in connection with your family member and their mental health concerns? your greatest fears?
  • have health professionals been open/interested in involving you as a family member?
  • has your family member’s mental health concern changed how you view people or situations outside of your family?

if you are a health professional -

  • how do you feel about family’s involvement in the care for persons with persistent mental health concerns?

tarot for beauty

page of swords

the princess or page of swords from the zerner-farber deck

tarot cards have interested me for quite a few years. i started playing around with using them for getting insight into situations back in 2005 but could never really get into it. i got some books and a few decks, but just like arthur rosengarten says in his fabulous book about tarot and psychology, like so many others in my profession, i was turned off by the idea of fortune telling, which has never interested me. methinks that part of the future is completely unknowable, and much of the rest if what you create for yourself, so what’s the point in fortune telling?

and then in february of this year, it all changed.  i found the right deck. i’m still not interested in predicting the future but it is as if suddenly a door opened and i have been given the gift of seeing how tarot cards can be used. they are these beautiful pictures that can help us look deeper into an issue that interests or troubles us and see a much wider “spectrum of possibilities”, as arthur rosengarten says. (i have to say i’m comforted by the fact that dr. rosengarten is a well-respected psychologist who has spent many years studying the applicability of tarot to the helping profession. makes me feel a little less weird.)

for the last 9 months then i have spent an inordinate amount of time with tarot cards. one of the things that i find particularly interesting is having what i call “tarot conversations”. it is one (or maybe two) of those tarot conversations that i am donating to the beauty for a cause fundraiser this week, a fundraiser for beauty night, a very, very worthwhile charity that builds self esteem and changes the lives of women and youth living in poverty through three streams of programming: wellness, life skills development and makeovers.

in tarot conversations, the other person (the “sitter”) and i discuss the sitter’s issue in light of tarot cards that the sitter chooses – usually at random, sometimes on purpose. i listen carefully to the impressions and ideas that the cards evoke in the sitter and then add my own observations. we may choose additional cards, remove some cards, or rearrange them. in the end, we will probably come up with one action idea to pursue.

lately, i’ve also done quite a few online “readings”. here is a real life example. (i have gotten permission from the person to blog about this.)

question:
i would like to know how i should approach my next significant relationship. what should i do and not do to get along well and avoid misunderstandings and hurt, which have been a problem in the past.

answer:
i’m a counsellor first and foremost and would feel remiss if i didn’t share with you same basic information about this topic. john gottman is the expert on relationships – nobody that i know of has studied the topic as deeply as he. i have been following him off and on for the last 12+ years, and have yet to see something where i disagree with him. and i’m saying this not only as a counsellor but also as someone who after several failed attempts has been in a happy relationship for 20 years now. anyway, gottman’s principles are here http://www.gottman.com/54756/about-gottman-method-couples-therapy.html.

so … let’s get to your questions …

i used the zerner-farber deck.

what you could do to get along well
king of swords
a strong warrior decked out in full roman garb. his helmet has wings. his right hand rests on an immense shield. he is girded with a big, broad sword. his left holds a lance; a white dove flies across the top. the king looks like he might be standing in the clouds. the top of the card shows two identical coats-of-arms.

my immediate impression is that this guy has no interest in war but by jove, if you threaten his peace, he will protect his people and fight to the last drop. it feels like a card of strength of the best kind – exactly the kind of king a country would want to have.

the implication is easy to read: be in peace with your new mate, but make it clear to him in the way you carry yourself that you are strong and know how to protect yourself. then you can “fly” with him :) (the suit of swords is usually associated with the element of air, which usually points to matters of the mind; maybe you’ll find companionship particularly in the area of intellectual pursuits.)

what you could do to avoid misunderstandings
princess of swords
a very well-dressed lady intently reading a letter – of good news, apparently because she looks happy and excited. she appears to be standing in a park. a big lacy white butterfly is flying in the blue sky.

a very obvious card: pay attention to what is communicated to you, and there will be butterflies and blue skies :) that sounds a bit corny but in my experience it is very true. paying attention to what is said to you, to body language and what is written to you (and not reading into it what’s not there) is an absolute must for the success of any relationship, not just a romantic one.

what you could do to avoid getting hurt
chariot
a man wearing a bedouin-type headdress and a long blue cloth around his waist is riding to the right atop a mythical creature that looks like a cross between a horse and a stag. he is looking back and riding very fast. we can see a butterfly directly above him.

what can you do to avoid getting hurt? when you see the signs (because you’ve paid attention like the princess of swords), get on your horse and run! there is absolutely no reason to stay. and because you gave signals yourself (in the king of swords) that you are not a victim, you probably won’t attract people who are out to hurt you. since this is a major arcana (one of the 22 powerful “trump” cards that tarot decks have in addition to the normal playing cards) i think this message is particularly strong.

general ideas for your next relationship
three of hearts reversed
three teenaged girls prancing about in light dancing clothes, each carrying a heart high over her head.

since this card is reversed, i think this card may be saying not to forget that relationships with men are different from relationships with our girlfriends. i myself sometimes fall into the trap of wanting my husband to be like my best friends – and darn, he isn’t! he’s not a woman, he doesn’t think like a woman, and i married him for who he is and not for who he isn’t.

this card may be going even further to advise that we need to be careful with high-flying ideas about romance. there’s a fine line between being romantic, which is lovely, and going off into la-la-land, which can be unrealistic and hurtful to an otherwise good relationship. i’m going back to the princess of swords: if you pay attention to the particular nature of this new relationship, you will get a sense for what’s possible and what comes straight out of a disney fantasy world.

when i do an online reading like that, i always add something like this:

i hope this helps! let me know what you think – any feedback, “positive” or “negative” alike, is appreciated. if you need clarification, please let me know, too!

no promises, just a hope

my last blog post was over a year ago.  the hacker infestation wouldn’t go away, so i came up with the great plan of sticking my head in the sand.  foregoing procrastination, i executed that genius plan posthaste, with great success.

and now i’m back, with the help of lorraine and catherine.  who knows for how long – the world might end in 58 days.

now i could promise that from now on i will write every day, or every week, or every third rainy day.  but i won’t.  the older i get, the more careful i become with my promises.  life keeps on teaching me that it, life, trumps a lot of my plans, and that i actually cannot look into the future (coincidentally, i just wrote a novel about that in this year’s 3-day novel contest.  see the badge.  3 day novel contest

maybe i should get a badge for the novel, too?  do people make logos for novels?)

so i won’t promise anything.  i’ll just participate as life unfolds itself and put out a little hope that this blog will keep unfolding, too.

it all began with a grand waterfall
that’s what he said
but he don’t know where that waterfall came from
and it ended in a trickle
that’s what he says

he don’t know where the trickle has gone