Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The artist, the ego and the control freak - looking back on 2013 (and announcing my annual blog break)

The year is coming to an end. In but a few weeks we will say goodbye to 2013 and hello to 2014. This time of year always gets me reflecting about the past year and thinking wishful thoughts about the next. This year I want to share some of these thoughts with you. This will be a rather long post,  so be warned.

I'm not sure I got the idea from her, but it's definitely Quinn McDonald who keeps reminding me that resolutions can be replaced with just a word. Resolutions are difficult, sometimes impossible things to keep up with. I'm not even good with regular plans and intentions.  But a word? I could just do that. Maybe.

My word for 2013 came to me while working (oh blessed irony) in the Quinn Book.  The word was 'ARTIST'. I needed to find out what that word meant to me and whether I felt like I really was one or not. It's a loaded word that many find hard to apply to themselves no matter how artistic they are. I'm no exception. Also for me there's a lot of ego involved in this word as I think of artists as special, gifted and important and enviable and a lot of other things I would like to be considered.

I think the biggest change this word brought to me was no longer being able to deny that I needed more personal time. Now don't get me wrong, I have always had way more personal time than most. I'm not a very social person. I don't entertain and I like my solitude above just about most people (a few exceptions here and there of course). But working full time still felt stifling and off balance. So at the beginning of the year I made a huge decision: I was going to work less so I'd have more time for my own things, especially my art.

From a full time worker I became a part time worker. You can read how that came about here. I am now six months into it and it's been a huge lesson to me that I'm still trying to process.



When going into this I thought all this free time would be freeing me. I saw pictures in my head of this incredibly productive happy playful person who just made art art art all the time (well, a lot of the time) and who would finally find some peace of mind about herself and her passions.  I would become a real artist.

They say wherever you go that's where you are. Or no matter where you go you can't escape yourself. And myself is one huge controlfreaky perfectionist. With all my creative aptitude and other skills there's nothing I excel at more than putting huge demands on myself and filling my head and heart with my own extensive expectations. I really ran into that the second half of this year when I started working less and at first I didn't even really notice it.

Let me say, before I continue, that never, not once, have I regretted my decision to work less. In fact you couldn't pay me enough to get back to a full time job.  There's a wonderful decadence about having a three day work week and four days to do whatever you want. So that's not an issue here.

What happened however is that with all this extra time I felt extra responsibility to spend that time well and it's not like I was always so keen on wasting my free time before. I was always making schedules and time managing my way through life so I would consciously make time for the things I longed to do. Now this part of me went in overdrive. Four days! Four whole days to fill with my own things! I was not going to waste those! Oh no, not me.

And so I set up a routine. Never mind the details on that. The point is that I made time consciously for everything that I wanted to do. I mean isn't that what the self-help guru's tell you? That you need to schedule the things you want in your life or they will not get done? So I scheduled the good stuff, the relaxing stuff along with the chores and other things we can't get out of doing. Well, it sounds good in theory. And it's probably necessary for those who don't make time for themselves at all. But...I'm not one of those. For me it was control freak central.

By consciously making time for everything I snuffed all spontaneity from my life and even though I was doing things I wanted to do and even enjoying them often I did them because the clock told me it was time! And I stopped because the clock told me it was time to do something else. I wasn't totally anal about it, but still very conscious of my time. And here's the kicker: if my natural sense of things took over and I dropped the schedule I felt guilty. I felt like a slacker for not making art. I felt like I was wasting time if I slept late when I was supposed to go on my morning walk (even though I really needed the sleep).

It was weird. At first I felt really proud of myself for being so productive and focused. I even wrote a blog post about it that I never published. Probably because I also noticed a decline of pleasure in doing the things I loved. A reluctance to go to the studio for instance. As much as I am someone who believes in practicing your art, I also believe it should be a mostly pleasurable experience, not a chore.  And did I really have to force myself to get up at six every morning even though I'm not a morning person, just because I have to the three days of the week when I work? I could give many more examples, but the point is that all this organized and controlled time was making me proud and in charge, but also uncomfortable. That's not what was supposed to happen!  It's not like I was miserable or anything, but really, I don't want my life to be a big schedule, I just want to do the things I love!



It wasn't until recently that I figured out I was trying to live from pride and ego more than from peace and joy. I would love for people to think I have it all together and be large and in charge of my artsy life. My ego would love to label me an incredibly productive artist that lives and breathes art all the time. My ego would love to prove that all this extra free time is being spent well and that I have something incredible to show for it.

And with this ego comes fear. The fear that if I don't consciously plan everything out I will sort of fall by the wayside and just sit on the couch and eat bonbons all day or something. My ego is extremely result oriented. It's the reason why it's hard for me to spend four hours on one spread. Just one spread? Come on, you can do better (read: more) than that! Quantity over quality. You get the picture.

This tendency to go in overdrive and be so obsessive is unfortunately a part of my perfectionist personality, but that doesn't mean I have to listen to it. It seems however that in the past five to six months I have done nothing but listen to it! I'm sort of wasting my joy in order to be productive, on top of things and in control and I don't like it.


So I have decided to stop. I am throwing schedules out the window, hopefully once and for all. I will stop making lists, unless they are necessary (you know grocery lists for instance are pretty functional). I will not obsess over plans and wishes. I will try to move more organically through my day and just try do it the way children do. They play at one thing until they want to play at another. And if that means I sit on the couch to read a book for five hours straight, well hey, that's time well spent! Most of all I will not apply value to the way I spend my time by deeming one thing more worthwhile than another. If it's something I enjoy doing, it's good enough and worth my time.

And this brings me to my conclusions on my word of the year 2013. ARTIST is too big a word for me! It puts expectations in my head that don't fit me or how I want to live my life. I just love making things. I'm a sketcher, a collager, a journaler, a photo taker, a documenter, a blogger, a reader, a walker, a learner and many more wonderful things, but I'm those things for the enjoyment of them and nothing else. An artist to me is someone who lives and breathes art and can't get enough of her studio. It's someone for whom art is work, real valuable wonderful work.  I love to practice my art, but I don't like to 'work' at it. I play at it. I dabble in it. I poke at it and see what happens. And that's all I do with it. No ambition but to enjoy it whenever I feel like it (not when the clock tells me so). I should have known. I could have known, if I just put my ego to the side and listened to my heart or hearts.

So now I'm looking for my word for 2014. I haven't found it yet. It has something to do with pleasure. It has something to do with joy. It has something to do with peace of mind and taking your time slowly, slowly.

If you have any suggestions for a word that would fit what I'm looking for, I'm all ears!

Thanks for listening. 


  

PS. I will be going on my annual blog break for about three weeks. I will check responses and mail and such, but other than that I will go offline as I do every year (so no blogs, no facebook, no groups). I have a two and  half week vacation coming on. Yay!

Wishing you all a wonderful and artsy holiday season! Make it a good one!


Update on 20 December:

Dear blogsy people, I just wanted to add a little text to thank you all for your wonderful responses to this post. I put this stuff out there for two reasons: 1. to verify if it resonates with anyone else so I know I'm not alone in these kinds of struggles and 2. to make sure that if there's anyone out there with the same struggle they know they are not alone. It's a win win situation really and you all make me feel so much better. Thank you!
Now, as of today my vacation officially started, so I will be offline for a little over two weeks. This means I won't respond to your comments, but know that I will get back to them after I return online.
Again: have yourself some wonderful holidays!

38 comments:

  1. Two words come to mind when I read your post: TRUE and LISTEN. Listen to you mind and body so you're not stressing about schedules and being so productive. Be true to yourself!!

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    1. Thanks Purrplekatt for the suggestion, I think I am quite true to myself actually, but I take it a bit too far. ;-)

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  2. Caatje, ik vind je dapper dat je zo eerlijk over deze dingen schrijft! Fijne feestdagen en een gezond 2014.
    liefs, Annie

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    1. Dank je wel Annie. Jij ook de beste wensen en hopelijk sla je je net zo dapper door komend jaar als het vorige.

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  3. Pleasure is the word that comes to mind regarding you and your artsy life. Pleasure to do what you want and when you want to do it. Pleasure to do nothing. Pleasure just sitting down and reading a good book. Pleasure in doing your art when you want to do it and don't put demands on yourself. Please to take the time to do nothing. You deserve to take a short nap or just go out for a bite to eat.
    Pleasure to just please yourself and no one else.
    Pleasure to be creative and choose art projects that make you happy.
    Most of all enjoying your pleasurable 4 days off to do only what you want to do and not what you dwell on doing to get things done on time.
    I stopped doing things for others and now concentrate on what makes me happy and I have never looked back and thought myself selfish in anyway.
    Your days off are for your pleasure and your interests.
    I know it works for me and it just might work for you to do your PLEASURE thing. lol
    Barb
    USA

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    1. Pleasure if definitely a big part of it. Thanks for thinking along with me, Barb.

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  4. The description of your "word" for 2014 sounded like "Contentment" to me! :) Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year...

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    1. Actually 'contentment' is one of the words on my list of possibilities. It seems to describe the feeling I'm going for. Have a wonderful holiday too!

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  5. oh, Caatje - thank you SO, SO MUCH for writing this wonderful post. Because I joined you over the summer, I went back and read your original post of how you made this happen, and I feel like between that post and this I have learned so much and gained so much support.

    I have a lot of guilt as well when I allow myself to just do what I feel like at the time. Of course, this is not possible all of the time for anyone, but I identify very much with what you describe.

    This year I have been working very hard as a violin teacher and I'm realizing that it is too much for me and mulling over what cutting back will mean. Every person has their own situation - I may share how I eventually go about it for the next academic year on my own blog, if I get one started!!

    What helps me in this post is what helps me in all of your posts, though, even though some of them may get done with a sense of deadline hanging over you (I HATE those!). And that is, that you are seeking to be yourself and explore who you are at the moment, and somehow, when you do that, you strengthen the part of me that is seeking to be MYself and to explore who I am at the moment. A process I hope to strengthen over time, though it can be complicated between being who I am and the various circumstances of life.

    So - thank you for blessing my life and my old and new year - may yours be as blessed!!

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    1. Thanks so much Judith for this wonderful reply. I'm happy that my personal stories resonate with you and get you thinking, makes me feel better about my neurotic side, haha. I hope you find the balance you are looking for, I know it's not easy. Good luck to you and hope you do get a blog going.

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  6. I enjoyed this post so much, Caatje. The word that comes to mind is RELAX.
    Happy holidays!
    peace & love,
    Barb

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    1. Thanks Barbara. Relax is a good word. I should absolutely learn to get better at it. ;-)

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  7. I found your blog when Mary Ann Moss did a post on you. I truly love your patterns. They brighten my day when they pop up. My word suggestion is 'slack' as in cut yourself some. I'm working on my own perfectionism with the word 'finish' as in plow through fewer projects and not juggle so much and accomplish not much. Happy New Year!

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    1. Thank you Bobbi. The word slack made me laugh actually, because I had been thinking about a rather rebellious way to use a word just like it in the sense of 'slacking off' ;-). Kind of like a protest against my inner perfectionist. But it's also true I need to cut myself some slack. Thanks for the suggestion. I get the feeling of wanting to do too many things at once, so I hope your word works for you.

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  8. Renaissance woman…. After all this was applied to men who'had many interests….Yes I know it is 2 words…..

    Annie v.

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    1. Ooh, I love that one! I don't think I'd use it as my word for the year, but it's definitely something that I would like to apply to me. And two words are fine as long ast they resonate with me and these do. ;-)

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  9. My first reaction to your post is "she's an introvert". Me too, but I didn't realize it until last year - labelled myself unsociable. Maybe you are also? Just a thought.
    As for a word: "relax". (Or the slang of that word "chill" as in "chill out", "don't sweat the small stuff").

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    1. LOL, I was an introvert before I even knew that word existed and long before it became in style as it seems to be doing now. I've always known that I am that way, even as a child. It took growing a bit more mature to help me accept that's just who I am and that it doesn't necessarily mean there's something wrong with me. I think this introversion may be part of the problem though, to put it simply: I think way too much!
      Indeed relax is a good word. My version of that word would be 'calm', I feel that somehow goes deeper inside of me.

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  10. This is such a good post. I enjoyed reading it and it has given me much to ponder.

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  11. Lots of this post resonated for me. I remember having to consciously set aside time for being creative when I worked full time. Then I partially retired from medicine and worked 3 days per week and expected those days to be full of projects. In 2009 I retired completely and it is still a struggle for me not to feel guilty if I'm not as productive as I could be. But slowly I've adjusted and can cycle among many different pleasures. Give yourself time to find a new balance!

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    1. I guess change is never easy, even if it is a good kind of change (and me working less is definitely a good thing). I need to set a new normal for myself and you just can't force that. You are righ: I need time to let things settle into their own instead of trying to control them so much. Thank you for reminding me and good luck.

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  12. Your retrospective nature is refreshing, Caatje. I look forward to watching your journey continue to unfold.

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    1. Thanks so much Teri. I'll keep everybody posted!

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  13. Enjoyed reading this. The listing/scheduling comments resonated with me. Maybe your word is "Play".
    Have a wonderful holiday - see you in 2014.

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    1. Yep, I should play more and it's a good word for me. Maybe it doesn't cover everything I have in mind, but it sure is a big part of it. Thanks Lynette, have a wonderful holiday!

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  14. I love this post, Caatje...so insightful and self-aware. So much of what you say about being an artist applies to my approach to parenting: inclined to schedule it out, perfectionism, wringing out the spontaneity. I've made huge progress in adjusting that, and it has been freeing; I know you'll find the same to be true as you adjust your approach to your art. Enjoy your blogging break!

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    1. LOL! I sometimes wish I wasn't so self-aware. Do you have any idea how busy it always is in my head because I'm always analyzing myself? ;-) '
      I'm glad you recognize a lot of what I'm talking about and happy for you that you are freeing yourself from it. See you next year!

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  15. The word I like for you is "space." Giving yourself breathing room, and emotional space, and letting art in rather than trying to make it come in. Realizing that in art more is not better, working harder is not working better, goofing off is vital for your creative well, displacement activity drives out art. All that. I love to read your approach to life and to deciding what's right for you, never mind what other people might decide is right for you.

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    1. Actually 'space' is one of the words I considered for the past year, before I chose 'artist'. It's kind of ironic that the 'artist' both gave me space (more time) and took it away again for being way too serious. Ýou're right that I need to be much more playful. Thank you so much also for your kind words.

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  16. Oh my can I relate!! I retired 18 months ago and have YET to feel as though I have 'a day off' !! I am as driven as you - with production the goal ... sigh ... thank you so much for putting into words the feelings that I have not been able to articulate well!

    And I think I know the word -- it's mine as well .... 'Creative.' ...... and that means to me, that we can find ways to be restively creative ... I hope!! LOL

    Thanks once more!

    Lin
    http://www.flickr.come/photos/linfrye

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    1. Thank you for letting me know I'm not the only one struggling with this. And also thanks for your suggestion. Hope you find your creative peace.

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  17. Je ben misschien nog geen 'Artiest', maar wel een 'Artieste'. Het is een mindsetting en de term hoef niets negatiefs mee te dragen. Je mag er trots op zijn.
    Maar ik kan me voorstellen dat je zo reageerde op meer tijd. Het credo 'Niets moet, alles mag' is iets wat je moet leren. Maar ik vind het harstikke goed van je dat zoveel zelf inzicht heb, dat je voor je zelf een andere weg ingaat. Voor jouw is blijkbaar het belangrijkste dat je heel veel plezier beleefd en dat ben je kwijtgeraakt. En ik hoop voor je dat je dit weer terug vind. Ik ervaar trouwens de tijd dat je iets anders doet zoals wandelen, fotograferen, onverwachte ontmoetingen met mensen, tijd voor iets anders, boodschappen doen, een andere stad bekijken ook als iets creatiefs. Ik krijg er altijd weer heel veel ideeen van.

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    1. Dank je wel voor je lieve woorden Mieke. Je hebt helemaal gelijk over die andere activiteiten, maar er zit nog een zeikerdje in mij dat denkt dat die andere dingen eigenlijk niet meetellen. Ik ben er zeer goed in idiote waarden toe te kennen aan mijn bezigheden. Ik moet duidelijk nog goed oefenen in creatief leven, haha.

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  18. I think of the word TRANSFORM. You are transforminng the way you behave, think, act, etc. The reflections you have done to realize what is working, what is not, how to remain true to yourself is something wonderful and you are by no means alone in your quest! I myself have a hard time being in my studio as much as I want because I guilt myself into thinking I'm not spending my time productively, wisely, etc. I should be washing dishes, laundry, cleaning, making beds, paying bills, the list is way too long,...but by constantly finding "excuses" to not be in my studio, I'm not being true to myself, and I get cranky. So I too am trying to transform the way I view my spare time. I think the first step is to stop calling it spare time.

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    1. Ooh, beautiful word indeed Amber! It really i a transformation of sorts and I still need to find my bearings. All transformation can be painful. But it's worth it. Hope you let your creative side come before the chores!

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  19. Thank you, thank you for this wonderful and honest post, Caatje. It seemed you were writing to me! I'm not as interested in goals as I once was, and I am finding that I just want what I do to be meaningful. If I want to do something with my art and my time, then if I want it and it is meaningful at the same time, it's good with me.
    I put out a monthly newsletter and the theme I came up with for 2014 is Meaningful Life, Meaningful Work and Enjoying Our Homes. Perhaps creating a handmade life with handmade things in it-that works for me.
    Your post here is meaningful to me, because it described the thoughts and feeling many of us have about our time. I don't say "I should..." anymore and I no longer suffer from guilt (used to, though).
    If something feels like a chore, then I stop to reconsider doing it.
    You've given me a lot to think about here, so thank you.
    The word that comes to mind for you is...Meaningful.
    Sandy in California

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    1. Thank you for your comment Sandy. In fact it's exactly what I've been thinking about. I've been way too focused on things like productivity and way too little on things like meaning. This has to change. I hope to one day ban the 'shoulds' from life the way you have.

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