What Did You Do on Your Summer Vacation?

July 30, 2013

Everybody needs a vacation. For some, vacations give us an opportunity to take a deeper dive into our creative interests. We can go to a writer’s conference, or an arts colony, or go to a city where we can visit ten art museums in ten days, or find someplace off season on the beach where we can write or paint or take photographs undisturbed. Or perhaps we seize the opportunity for a class to learn an approach or a form we’ve never mastered. There are hundreds of places that cater to people on vacation who want to learn water colors, or listen to jazz, or take up jewelry making.

What many of us never do is take an actual vacation. The kind where you do no work of any kind whatsoever, but actually go to the beach IN season and drink frozen margaritas. Or go to Disney World without having in the back of your mind what a good setting it would make for a horror movie. Or go kayaking, or mountain climbing, or to a spa for a different kind of seaweed wrap every day. There’s little enough time in our lives for our creative projects, we tell ourselves—why waste perfectly good time off on unproductive activities?

That was how I felt for many years. You couldn’t sell me on a vacation. Time off was for writing, or possibly going places that would help my writing. Writing WAS my vacation.

Sunset at the ocean

But funny thing about that: I never found myself getting so much done on these writing vacations. Some people do, I know. They go off to writers colonies and actually write. They hole themselves up in a studio shack on a lonely beach and come back with piles of photographs or paintings. Me, I mostly get anxious. I tell myself I only have a week, it’s already Tuesday, and what have I accomplished? And then suddenly it’s Saturday, and I’m scribbling desperately—and I come out of the whole thing with a sense of having achieved very little. (This by the way, bears absolutely no relationship to how much I have written, whether it be five or fifty pages—it’s not enough.)

Last year, I took an actual vacation. I went with my sister to visit my brother and my cousins at the beach. (You may consider this cheating, as I did work a little bit with my sister on a novel we are writing together, but this was not the purpose of the trip.) We stayed at a pleasant hotel actually on the beach, and yes, it was off season, but warm enough to sit in the sun and put your toes in the water, if you were so inclined. We sat and looked at the ocean. We took rides and looked at scenery. We caught a spectacular sunset. We ate in seaside restaurants. We ate lobsters. We all talked a lot to each other, remembering family stories, looking at old photographs and catching up.

I did not measure my vacation in pages written, or stories plotted, or research done. I just had a nice time with people I don’t see often enough. And when I came home, I did have a little burst of creative energy, stemming from our seaside trip, but even if I hadn’t, it would have been rewarding and the best possible use of my time. Because sometimes, even though we can never really leave our creative side at home, a vacation should just be a vacation.

Photo Credit: Susan A. Hanson


The Saturday Collapse

February 22, 2013

By Deborah Atherton

Saturday Collapse

Whether we work at full-time jobs, as I do, or run our own businesses, as Leslie does, we are likely to be running at full-steam Monday through Friday attempting to pay our bills, all the while telling ourselves how much work we will get done on our creative projects on the weekend. We look forward to it; we plan for it; we schedule it.

And then Saturday comes. And before us lie all the weekend chores we don’t have time for during the work week, from laundry and grocery shopping to dry cleaning and buying a new electric drill at Home Depot. Plus all the bill-paying and newspaper/blog reading that couldn’t get done Monday through Friday. And the trip to the gym you are really overdue for. Not to mention the frantic emails from work or clients that mean you don’t really have the day of at all.

And you don’t want to do any of it. Not the writing or painting or photography. Not the laundry or dry cleaning or big box shopping.

What you really want to do is collapse in front of the TV and watch an NCIS or Downton Abbey or Big Bang Marathon or read the library book that is due back Tuesday. What you really want to do is just tear open a bag of chips or make yourself a cup of tea and cookies and not think about anything productive at all.

If you have reached that moment when nothing else seems possible, and your TV or your book or the movie you downloaded exercise irresistible temptation, give in.

Just do it. Watch six hours of the teams we all wish we belonged to, be they the detectives at NCIS or the aristocrats around the dining table or the geeky comic book devotees at a California university. Read the latest from Charlaine Harris or the Jack Reacher thriller or a brain-eating Zombie fantasia. Go through all the Oscar nominees and scornfully dismiss them one by one.

Sometimes your brain needs a break. Even more often, your body needs a break. Being Americans, we have all read self-help books on how to manage and schedule and prioritize our time, on how to organize our lives, on what is urgent and important, or urgent and not important, or barely worth thinking about—and once in a while, we have to throw it all out the door.

Take the day off. Indulge. Let yourself.

Indulge

Here’s betting that by 10 o’clock Sunday morning (or maybe 11 o’clock Sunday night), you’ll be ready for something a bit different, and that those task lists and chores will seem a little less overwhelming—or at least look like something you can postpone for another week. And that having spent a day actually off, you might want to spend at least a few hours of one writing or painting or heading off to film the polar bears enjoying the weather no one else is enjoying.

It’s your time. It’s your life. Every minute of it isn’t going to be spend fiercely engaged with the struggle to create. Some of it is going to be spent munching snacks and watching TV. And it is my belief that ultimately your creative projects will benefit by the downtime.

Thanks to Eric Ember for permission to use his photos.


Finding Your Inner Voice

November 26, 2012
by Leslie Zeigler
In this fast-track world we all now live in with iPads, Droids, Twitter, Facebook and Linked In,  we all may fear that if we dare to not have our devices within six inches we will be out of the loop.  I know that I have an ambivalent relationship to my own attachment to my now dinosaur Blackberry. Yet this is the new reality we all live in, and in order to survive, succeed and stay in touch, it would be really hard to turn off and tune out for very long. However, I sometimes think that tuning out is just what the metaphorical cultural doctor would prescribe if there were one.   My recommendation would be that during moments of high stress  (or even  medium or low stress) we turn off our devices to allow time to be creative and engage with our imaginations.
Five Minute Break
It could really be as simple as a five-minute break for reflection while walking to your car or subway (or possibly longer if you have the time.) In order to enhance your ability to do this, try to access your inner voice, which requires giving it some space to emerge. I find that those rare, and sometimes not so rare, moments when we can quiet all those various inner messages that try to demand our attention (almost as if our inner life were like a TV with many channels) are truly magic.   We are all familiar with our ever-present inner critic, who will try to tell us we don’t know enough, or that we aren’t really going to create something worthy of sharing. Perhaps we also hear our daily to-do list streaming through our minds, vying for our attention,  or maybe it is a message you keep hearing related to something your mother told you when you were just four years old.
 Finding Inner Calm
It can be a real challenge to find inner calm, to push the mute button on all these messages, and just relax and let go and let your intuition kick in.  You will not know where it is coming from, or how, but creative ideas and thoughts may just start to flow and it will be magic.  And for extra inspiration just remember the words of Steve  Jobs “don’t let  the noise of other’s opinions drown  out your own inner voice.”

The Perfect Storm Approaches

October 27, 2012

by Deborah Atherton

In the Northeastern United States, we are all currently waiting for Hurricane Sandy to descend and disrupt our lives.  The early warning system provided by weather satellites and 24-hour media, designed to give time for preparation, manages in fact to fill us with anxiety.  Instead of saying “Good night” when they leave work at night, people are asking, “Do you have batteries for your flashlight?”

It’s a kind of exaggerated version of the anxiety we live with all the time now, aware of every disaster, whether it happens around the corner or around the world from us.  You’d think we’d get hardened to it, but we don’t seem to; we turn on our computers, our phones, our TVs every day to hear more news.  It’s on in the elevator of the building I work in.  There is no separation from the rest of the world’s misery, or, as today, our own apparent impending doom, although it’s not actually arriving for another few days, so we have a lot of time to think about it.

I have batteries in my flashlight, I have the 3-4 days worth of food and water FEMA has suggested, I have candles and lots of books to read.  I am reasonably sure any flood will not reach the very high floor I live on, and if it does, the entire island of Manhattan is in more trouble than it is ever likely to get out of.  So this should be the moment when I pat myself on the back, and pick up one of the scenes I am trying to fix, or finish a chapter in the book Leslie and I are working on.

But no, I keep going back to the Weather Channel, hypnotized by the approaching storm.

We might tell ourselves we can multi-task, and of course, to some extent we can, but no one can stay glued to blow-by-blow reports of the pending apocalypse and get any creative—or even uncreative—work done.  And maybe this weekend, it’s an actual imminent threat, but even so—there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.  Sandy will waltz up the Eastern Seaboard, and either encounter—or not encounter—the other two weather systems that will help create a perfect storm.  She is disregarding the wishes of both Presidential candidates, who would just like clear roads so people can go and vote.  (That’s another impending event over which I have absolutely no control, but absorbs a great deal of my thought right now.)

The only possible thing to do is turn it all off.  Check often enough for safety—and I’ll undoubtedly check more often than that—but try and create a quiet space in which to generate a little quiet thought.  Push every little button with a green light and wait until the color fades away. Let go of the apocalypse long enough to know that however much we hype it, it’s just a storm.  It is the nature of storms to pass.

Of course, Sandy might just do all that for me.  In which case I might have 3-4 days with no news but occasional reports on my battery powered radio—since there is no way I am going to walk up and down more than 500 stairs unless absolutely forced to do so.

And who knows how much creative thinking and work we all could get done by candlelight in absolute quiet in 3-4 days? It might be an experiment worth trying, even without an apocalypse.


An Experiment in Happiness

February 21, 2012

Posted by Deborah Atherton

Does creativity make us happy?

A month ago, renowned positive psychologist Chris Petersen said in an interview with Ben Dean of Mentor Coach that in the early days of his interest in researching happiness, he had kept a daily catalog of his activities on happy and unhappy days, to see what actually contributed to his own happiness.  Since I am always excited about a new list, I decided to keep my own spreadsheet for a month on my happy and less happy days, and what, by the end of a day, in my mind made it a happy one.  Chris Petersen said, to his surprise, that his own happiness depended on the completion of a task—that even finishing a big load of laundry was enough to make him happy.  Ben asked if working on his book didn’t make him happier than doing the laundry. Chris replied, “Not really.  I just like finishing things.”

Well, here I am, thirty days later, and it was certainly an interesting way of looking at your life. Usually, I am focused on my writing, my job, my family and friends, what I’m making for dinner, what’s on TV, what I have to read, etc.  Sitting down at the end of the day, assessing how you feel, and just listing what you’ve done, turns out to be a fascinating personal exercise.   

But just finishing things didn’t do it for me.  I had one highly virtuous day of housekeeping, finishing everything from the laundry to washing the kitchen floor, which left me completely cranky at the end. 

What did do it for me was working on something I consider creative. Which might be this blog, or a short story, or song lyrics, or working on my novel.  Every day I did something creative, I ended the day happy, even if it was a difficult day in other ways, and even if I couldn’t get too far with what I was doing. 

The other thing that worked for me was doing absolutely nothing–throwing the To Do list and all my projects out the window for the day and just ordering Chinese for dinner and reading or watching TV—or playing my favorite new video word game, Word Mole.

Despite my love of solitude, days when I spoke to people I care about tended to be happier, a lesson for the creative introverts and hermits of the world.

Of course, understanding what makes you happy and acting on it are two different things, which is one reason why the field of positive psychology is so popular right now.  But I now know that if I spend even fifteen minutes sitting down and writing a few words, my whole day is happier—it’s like a free painkiller with no bad side effects.  

Whether your key to happiness turns out to be finishing the laundry or polishing your prose, it might be fun to take a few minutes at the end of the day for the next month (or even week) and find out.  I’m guessing that for you, like me, it might be taking a photograph, or painting a landscape, or finding just the right chord to end a song.  Of course, it’s important not to confuse personal happiness with external approval or success—but that is a blog for another day.


Our Haiku Contest Winners!

February 1, 2012

We were so completely delighted with the results of our haiku contest, and the brilliance and creativity of our readers, that we will offering the Intuitive Edge Haiku Awards (and, of course, Starbucks Cards) to all of our amazing participants. 

Please enjoy the haiku below:

Marcus Bales

… sugar in your tea?
what’s all these crazy questions
that they’re asking me?

 ecumenical
white, green, and post-fermented,
yellow, oolong, black

Claudia Carlson

First draft steaming hot
dreams fill the cup of the mind
rewrite in the dregs

Warm ink in a cup
steam paints sonnets to the air
send chai to my heart

A measure of sweet
over dry and bitter leaf
serve it to your muse

Eric Ember

cupped in both hands tea.
steam rises, aroma wafts,
ideas percolate

 tea percolating
like ideas from the ether,
creativity

K10ld

TIPPING POINT

If I have more than
a half cup of regular,
the muse freaks; I’m hosed.

Kitpancoast

teaspoon of honey
dissolving in morning tea
twelve bee’s lifelong work

Kimberley Roots

nothing impels me
to write like the slick hiss
of milk being steamed

L. Sylvester

THE PERFECT FORMULA

A sweet aroma,

Driving the pen to paper

Then again a sip.

Our thanks again to all, and we look forward to next year’s contest!

Deborah and Leslie

 

 


Our First Haiku Contest: Tea and Creativity!

January 5, 2012

Tea and Creativity

Posted by Deborah Atherton

It often helps us, as we struggle to find time to do our creative projects, to have a little prompt, some gesture that tells us that it is now time to get serious, and sit down with our work.  We tell ourselves, “After I finish reading the paper, or cleaning up after dinner, or eating lunch, I will go ______ (you fill in the blank – paint, or sort out my photographs, or edit some video, or write).

For me, this is most often a cup of coffee or tea (you can see my earlier post on coffee and creativity here ). I wake up with coffee, and then switch to tea later in the day.  Coffee is my first burst of inspiration; tea sustains and comforts and helps me bring ideas to fruition.   

 Tea, like wine, has its devoted connoisseurs, the people who will tell you that if you do not drink the white tea made from buds that bloom only for a week and a half every other year in some obscure province of China, you have not really experienced tea.  Like Captain Jean Luc Picard, I enjoy a nice cup of Earl Grey, hot, when it is available, but honestly will settle for lesser brands, at any temperature, when it is not.  It is the making of the tea, the ritual of heating the water, pouring it over a tea bag (or sachet or leaves, if we are being elegant), that creates the moment of peace, the little separate space, that allows you to launch yourself into the next hour of your day, the hour when you will have a little peace to do your creative work.

As firm believers in the drinking of coffee and tea to support  creative endeavors, and to help inaugurate what we are sure will be a wonderfully creative New Year, The Intuitive Edge invites you to participate in our first annual haiku contest with seventeen syllables on the subject of coffee or tea and creativity.  Use your vivid imaginations – and we know enough of our readers to know that this is not in short supply.  The traditional Haiku form used in English is 17 syllables (5-7-5), but this is the Intuitive Edge: give yourself a little room for creativity.  

We offer this haiku from the great Japanese master Matsuo Bashō, who some say invented haiku, on starting your mornings with tea:

drinking morning tea
the monk is peaceful
the chrysanthemum blooms

The prizes for the winning entries will be, of course, be Starbucks cards (we are here to support your creativity in many ways!) to help you break new creative ground in the New Year.  All entries must be in by midnight, January 22nd, GMT (which seems to be the clock WordPress runs on.)

Please post your entries here in the comments section. You will retain all rights to all seventeen syllables after they have first been posted here.  Good luck, and we look forward to your entries!  

I leave you with these final words from Matsuo Bashō: “The haiku that reveals seventy to eighty percent of its subject is good. Those that reveal fifty to sixty percent, we never tire of.”