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!