Friday, January 9, 2015

A brand new year - choosing a theme for 2015

Hello my blogsy people!

After  a little over two weeks of lots of free time and very little work I started working again this week and am slowly getting back into the daily routine, much of a routine as I can manage, since I'm not really good with routines.

My vacation was over way too quickly and I feel like I just got started settling into the relaxing spirit that is time without plans. But such is life and I won't allow myself to complain, because as you know my workweeks are ridiculously short (only three days, Tuesday to Thursday) and my weekends therefore ridiculously long, so every week I have a mini vacation anyway. ;-)

Some vacations are more relaxing than others though and I must say I had a bit of trouble really calming down this time. My head was full of thoughts and my heart full of feelings and sometimes it's just too busy in there, no matter how much I am enjoying myself doing the things I love.

So I did a lot of thinking and writing (next to a lot of sleeping, walking, reading, photographing and arting) and that is always a good thing even if it stirs things a bit too much on the inside. I really believe in being truthful with yourself on the page so you can see what's going on in your life and deal with it, but that's not always a comfortable thing.

My life is good by the way, make no mistake about it, but I have noticed that there were some things bothering me and ironically enough they had to do with the same thing I dealt with at the end of 2013. It's the everlasting conflict between ego en joy, or maybe it's the conflict between the things you think you want and the things you really need. I'm not sure, maybe it's both.

In my last post I wrote about my wonderful experiences with the word 'open' as my word of the year for 2014. This vacation I dealt with the shadow side of open, which is maybe being a bit too open to new things and saying 'yes' when you really should be saying 'no'.

Two very specific examples of this I mentioned in my last post as proud 'achievements' (not really the right word), they are the joining of a pop choir and the illustration project I was asked to do. I already mentioned in that same post that both things were kind of scary too and truth be told they weighed on me. I'm not afraid to do scary things, but choices have consequences and I have to be able to at least look forward to most of those.

For both things I was asked by other people and here's where the ego comes in as in 'Ooh, they want me, they think I can do this, I must be good, yay me!'. And of course I was being asked for things that in theory sound really lovely. Who doesn't want to illustrate and actual book and be published? Who wouldn't love to spend time singing with lovely people? I love singing, I love children's books!

But gradually the first rush goes away and you start to see what such a thing really entails and how it does not match your personality and the way you want to live your life. The singing for instance is every Thursday night and you are (rightfully so) expected to also practice at home and of course there would be performances from time to time. That all sounds not so bad, except when you're me and all you can muster is your book club which comes together only once a month! I knew at some point I would see this whole thing as a chore and that's not what it's supposed to be about.

The illustration project was a great ego boost, but when working on it I did not enjoy myself as much as I had hoped. And I know exactly why. It's not that I can't do the work. I had done several finished illustrations already and a ton of preliminary sketches and they loved them. The trouble is in the source of the work, it did not come from me. I was complementing the ideas of other people. It was a lovely little fairy tale that took place on this island, but it was somebody else's story and it was coordinated by yet another person and supported by yet someone else.
I already have a problem with journal prompts!  Why did I think I would find joy in the images and ideas in somebody else's mind? So this project really weighed on me more and more and I was struggling to find the will to work on it. And that is not why I do art.

There is a reason I'm not a professional artist. It's not because I can't put in the effort  or because of fears. Not that I'm fearless, but I have done many scary things in my life and I know I have plenty courage to work through my fears. It's because I don't enjoy doing this art thing for anyone but myself. It doesn't matter if it's paid (this was a volunteer project by the way), it doesn't matter if it gets published, it doesn't matter if it would bring some recognition that I crave (and yes I do).

My art is a personal practice, a way to express myself, it's not an ambition. It's not work at all. It's play. I don't consider it a hobby either, not something I do on the side. It really is a personal practice as important as maybe prayer or daily meditation is to religious people.  I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between professionals and hobbyists and that's a tricky place to be, because people will keep asking me when I will 'do' something with my art and this affects me whether I like it or not. I am doing it people!

Professional artists will have to juggle the balance between what they want to do and what their public wants or they won't make a living (unless they are really lucky). Professional artists will have to deal with the business side of selling and maintaining a livelihood on their art. They will have to do their own PR, their own finances, their own management. I don't want to live that way. I don't want to art that way. It's just not me.

So right at the end of my vacation I even surprised myself when I decided to say no after already having said yes. It was a very hard thing to do and I felt really bad about it. A lot more about the illustration project than the choir by the way. I felt like I let people down and broke given promises and I think part of my vacation stress stems from the fact that I found it hard to really let this go and actually just say no. But I did it. And I'm glad. And the only thing I'm sorry about is that I said yes in the first place and stepped right into that ego trap and consequently let people down.

This is a hard lesson to learn. To make the choices that are not popular, that are unexpected and don't follow the path most people would jump at to take. But it has to be done and to my wonderful surprise when I carefully explained myself to the people involved they all responded with such understanding that I felt better immediately. Phew!

I do think however that next time 'just say no' is the way to go when someone asks me to do something for them art wise or commitment wise. I'm not talking about small favours or doing something nice for someone, I'm talking long term commitments that take up too much of my personal time or take away from my joy in art making.

And that leads me to my word for 2015 (bet you thought I'd never get there!).

I have been thinking of way to express the need to stay close to yourself and to stand for who you are even, or especially, if it distances you from popular opinions and paths. I do follow my own path, but I still have a tendency to jump too easily into things that may not suit me if the request flatters me. And there is that everlasting itch that if everybody wants to go pro I should too, except that... I shouldn't. ;-)

Another tendency I have is to stray from the center of things. I'm not sure how to explain that properly. What I mean is that I will have an idea and I let it snowball into something so big that I can't see the forest for the trees. I need to focus on what things are instead of what they could be or might become. Maybe it also has to do a little with being in the present.

I also have the tendency to think for other people, explain myself too much to them, to worry about what they think and to maybe be a bit shy about who I am in public. In the end their thoughts and opinions are really not my concern. I really want to take more pleasure in my own personality, even if I'm the introverted not so outgoing type I want to cherish that. I want to be present in my own life as me, if that makes any sense. It's not like I'm absent now or anything, but I am so easily influenced in my moods (not so much in my actions thank god) and I want to work on that.

I couldn't really find a fitting word, but I did come up with a sentence that sprung to mind after I thought about all this and it's 'Don't leave home' . It's a theme more than a word.  It's again a very multifaceted theme (like 'open' was for me last year), because it can stand for all the above, but also very literally mean to work with what you have in your own house, to enjoy the place you live more, to get back to the basics that is you and really stick with that.

I look forward to seeing what this theme will bring me this year, I'll keep you posted.

I also look forward to reading your ideas about this, about the coming year and maybe you have a word or a theme too. One of the commenters on my last post even chose 'open' for her coming year. How cool is that? I happen to know that's a good word!

I wish all of you a wonderful and artsy new year in which you get everything you need and more than you could possibly hope for!

PS - the photographs in this post were taken the week before Christmas in our town's main street.


  1. Goed zo Caatje - jij bent één van de weinige mensen die echt over zichzelf nadenkt, reflecteert én er naar leeft. Fijn om te weten dat ze er nog zijn! Toen ik je post las, schoot op een gegeven moment het woord 'authentic' door me heen, maar je koos dus een 'thema'... toevallig, IK OOK!!! Niet één woord, maar een hele zin (couplet, zo je wilt...) Ik wil er dit weekend mee aan de slag, op de eerste pagina van mijn nieuwe Chronicles, en dan hoop ik er in een blogpost wat meer uitleg bij te geven (maar zo'n lange lap tekst als jij lukt me vast niet... ik hou van lange blogposts lezen maar schrijven kost heel veel tijd en die heb ik niet elke dag...) Buiten stormt en regent het... ik zit hoog en droog op m'n atelier en ben niet van plan er vandaag uit te gaan...en omdat dat jouw thema is: blijf jij ook maar lekker thuis dit weekend en geniet!

    1. Dank je wel voor je lieve woorden. Zo'n lange blogpost komt er bij mij in één keer uit als ik eenmaal bezig ga, maar er gaat inderdaad wel wat tijd inzitten. Ik ben erg benieuwd naar jouw zin en hou je blog in de gaten. Het weekend is alweer voorbij en het stormt nog steeds en het ziet er niet naar uit dat het voorlopig rustig wordt. We waaien nog rustig even verder. Fijne week!

  2. This was wonderful to read... on many levels -- to see how your choosing to say no as well as thoughts for a theme/sentence... and most vividly for me -- the ideas you talked about in what your art was for you. I have been going through many of the same or similar thoughts -- now that I am retired and have time for making/doing art, I start wondering why am I doing it? Is it just for me or does there need to be some further reason. And so many people ask that question ("are you going to see your art?" or "are you going to open an Etsy shop?" those sorts of questions) and I found myself rushing to find answers to them all when really I need to just make art. I need to do it for myself. And reading your post has helped me see that it affects others too and how you are dealing with it.
    Thank you for writing it all out for us!
    Oh and yes I am enjoying the word "OPEN" this year and am finding it can take on a lot of various meanings as situations arise. Who knew?

    1. I think for a lot of people art isn't 'real' or 'worth while' unless you sell it or get some kind of recognition for it. I know I have the need to share it (which I do mostly online) and I know I have a need for some kind of affirmation, but the business side of it is just not my thing. It's hard to find a balance between what you do for yourself and the pressure to perform outwardly. I do struggle with that. I do think it is important that there are people who do art just for art's sake, for the experience of it.It allows others to do the same. My favorite quote is by journaler/photographer Peter Beard. He says "I'm glad to have wasted my life with documentation that has no purpose." That's how I feel about my art. ;-)

  3. It was really important for me to read this post with all of your considerations. I am also having trouble being "just me" when who that is doesn't quite fit into any category. I've made it my goal for this year to listen to myself more and allow myself to go where I'm pulled as much as possible, even when doing that is scary or uncomfortable. Among other things, it is something I feel I need to practice!

    I accepted a job I was sure was my dream job, learning about a field that is important to me and bringing things into being that I believe in. Really, the only problem was that I couldn't sustain it, I was feeling ill and overwhelmed. So I quit, and yes, people were disappointed and let down - something I hate, HATE doing. But I needed to look after myself.

    In the end, a lot of the pressure of the place I now work will remain in place until the end of the school year, but my practice in listening to myself has already had good consequences.

    It was so helpful to read about your doing what is right for you, and even nicer to know I'm not the only one who sometimes agrees to things that turn out not to be a good fit.

    Strangely, the idea and feeling of "staying at home" very much suits my current feelings, and I feel strengthened by the thought of us being connected in this staying at home though each in our own homes.

    I think one of my great fears of listening to myself, of staying at home, is of being cut off from the kind of human contact I need. I do need contact, just... not too much, and only the right kind. The rest of it is exhausting for me. I have much to learn from you Caatje! Thank you for your blog!

    1. Thank you Judith for your heart felt response, I really appreciate it and I'm glad so much of what I said resonated with you. Mostly because for me too it is good to see there are others out there who struggle with the same things. Doing what is good for you is easy if it's the popular choice that makes you look good, but it's a lot harder when it sets you apart from the rest. I'm a very introverted person with very little need for human contact. I'm not a hermit, I do need some social interaction, but I think if need be I could make a good one, haha. It has taken me a long time (and I still struggle with it) to realise it's okay not to like social gatherings and parties and that it's okay that I love walking and traveling alone for instance. It's not like I never take anyone else with me, but that is a totally different experience and I do it only a fraction of the times. I feel deeper, I see clearer and I live more consciously on my own. That's just the way I'm wired. I am slowly getting to the point where I feel I'm allowed to enjoy this instead of trying to be someone I'm not. I hope you find your own balance in all this. Good luck.

  4. It's hard when you have over-committed and admit it and say "No." But it was wise. Because not delivering or being late is worse than not starting at all. It's going to be an interesting year of focus for you.

    1. I think I could actually have delivered (this wasn't a time thing, or an I-am-too-busy thing, but I would have delivered work that my heart wasn't into. I think they (and I) deserve better than that.

  5. It is very brave to stand up for what you know is any context. As hard as it was to say "no" to the projects you originally agreed to, you said "no" early enough in the game that it probably did not put folks out nearly as much as if you had left off later on, or had a hard time meeting your commitments. You are a wonderful example to me, as I doubt that I will ever "do" anything with my art aside from enjoying it. Sometimes I think that I should be "doing more" with it...turning it into something of quantifiable value...but I don't think that is ever going to be the route I will take. It is helpful to read about someone else who makes art for the sake of the art and the experience.

    1. I think it's really important that in these times when everybody seems to be wanting to make money from their art and/or their blog other voices are heard. It's almost frowned upon to do something just for the pleasure of it. Don't get me wrong, anybody who wants to go more pro or wants to 'make money doing what they love' certainly should do so, but there is another way to do things and I don't want to be made to feel like I'm somehow wasting my talents by not going in that direction.

  6. I totally "get" it - and this is a powerful essay, good job. But I have to ask: do you dislike being described as a hobby artist? (albeit, a passionate one?) Just wondering cuz I love wearing the label and I'm proud of it. It's so freeing! Of course, a few certain others try to make it be like the Rodney Dangerfield of art, lol. But, the only thing I've really been prickly about lately is, I'm a fellow artist or friend, not a commercial artist's "fan" or "follower". I refuse to be a lemming! (Except for my short list of divas, like Donna Downy, I'll be her lemming, hahaha). xoxo

    1. I thing the whole 'hobby' thing has more to do with the way people always go 'Oh, I see, it is JUST a hobby', like it's not so important. I actually love the word 'amateur' a lot more. I don't know if it's a local thing that hobby has a bit of a negative taste to me, even if it's undeserved. I think hobbies and personal pass times are seriously important. But in Dutch the word (which is the same by the way) always makes me think of little kids doing craft projects for kindergarten with a toilet roll and a milk carton. It's probably a personal prejudice so please don't mind me. ;-) The word amateur is closer to my heart (I did not mention it in this post, maybe I should have), because it literally means doing something for the love of it. You should absolutely be proud of your hobby-status and spend as much time as you can exploring it. Have fun! In the end I think we both are the same, we just have different associations with certain words.

  7. Ah, I understand and yes, we are both the same. xoxo


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