what I learned from posting words and images (almost) every day for a year
I am sharing here, in honor of completing the 31 Day Art Journaling/Blogging Challenge, my second to last post from my first blog, ZOELAB 365, where I blogged every day for a year. This is the learning and meaning I made from that intense year, which catapulted me out of postpartum depression and into a highly-charged creative inner life that has informed me, and my professional work, ever since.
THE WRITING PROCESS
I love to write. But writing is very taxing on the mind. I need to be alert, awake, I need to feel clear. I need few distractions. Also, writing takes time. No wonder writers always seem to be writing. Writing is the most time consuming art for me. Of course there are times when writing is quick—sometimes a poem just flows out of me, or sometimes I do free writing from the unconscious that is uneditable. But, for a lot of the writing I do on here—autobiography, essays, story-telling and even poetry has become a labor I work at and edit.
Writing cannot be rushed. It takes as long as it takes. Feeling rushed is no good for writing. No good at all. Yet, structure is very good for writing. Therefore, I like to give myself regular periods to write. I like writing every day for about an hour, but not to let time determine when I am done with a particular piece. Having watched the emotional damage an unrealistic writing deadline did for Hannah in Season Two of Girls, I am convinced that kind of writing deadline is no good for no one.
There is nothing good or bad about this discovery—it just is. But it does lead me to want to change the parameters of my next project. Writing every day is great. Publishing every day is a challenge I am not up for again, at least not this next go round. It is too taxing on my brain.
Writing in the mornings is ideal. Writing in the afternoons with a cup of coffee is great too—but if I drink coffee in the afternoons then I can’t sleep at night, so therefore it is not ideal.
Insomniac writing can be very good for me--way healthier than lying bed with thoughts circling.
I like to have different stations already set-up around the house with pens, pencils, markers paper or notebooks, recording devices, books.
THE LONG VIEW
One of the lessons I have learned over and over this year is basically a cliché—when we hear something said the same way enough times we no longer pay attention, but here it is: nothing great is easy. It’s true. It just is. Going for our dreams, building a life that mirrors our values, living life that is less governed by practicality than it is fun, going for happiness—all of these sound great, but all require enormous amounts of sacrifice and hard work, which isn’t always fun. And time. Building a dream takes enormous amounts of time. It’s hard to be patient with long-term goals, but if you are like me and Lucas, and have a low income, you must make up for lack of funds with creativity, time spent and acceptance of a lower standard of polish--with the understanding that it is all in process. This is something I never understood before I moved to Baja, or even before I met Lucas. He reminds me over and over again when I start to become despondent about the state of our house or the vermin factor that we are working on it—it’s improving a little bit every day. Be patient. Take some time for relaxation or fun. It would be awfully hard for me to stay balanced if it weren’t for Lucas holding up the other side of life.
It’s all about priorities. Every day I make little and big choices based on these priorities sometimes I find myself doing something that does not align with one value, but it aligns with another, but in that moment—I must prioritize one value over another. And what I have discovered in motherhood—is that more and more often—I choose what’s good for me in the moment because I believe I am a better mother when I take care of my own needs first. This is not to say I neglect Emilio when he truly needs something. This is to say that I let him watch a video if I really need a break and he is particularly demanding of my attention. This is to say that I eat a snack before playing with him to avoid getting grumpy and hungry later. This is to say I go out dancing with my friends and risk being tired the next day so that I can release some energy and have fun and grown up time.
I have honed my aesthetic which is fueled by different combinations of reality: dirt, simplicity, naiveté, freedom, and expression over perfection of skill.
Organization seems to be the bane of many creative people’s existence. I have come to believe disorganization is really an unwillingness to spend time organizing when that time can be used writing, thinking, reading, painting, lying on the couch, chatting with a friend, almost anything else seems more fun/valuable/less daunting. However, if I find a way to feel creative about organizing, and when I realize how useful it is for creativity, to be organized, organizing takes on a whole new meaning. The problem is organizing is quite time-consuming and overwhelming, it is best to take it one step at a time. Conquer one area of the house, or one aspect of my work at a time.
Being organized makes my creative time more efficient, fun and smooth. I think of creativity as a constantly flowing river that runs through us and through everything in the world. Our job is to continually work on letting that water flow, lest it become stagnant and disease-ridden mosquitoes hatch their eggs in it.
I make meaning by paying attention and by making connection between things. I spin those connections into art.
Is not nearly enough time to build something. Especially not a blog or a relationship or a business or anything at all. A lot can happen in a year, and yet, building something is a slow process. Especially if you are doing it all by yourself. But I have learned that I don’t want to build it all by myself. I am ready to have more collaborations/co-creations.
I view creative collaborations as a game that two people agree to make up rules for as they go along.
As an artist, I have always been interested in revealing the process of art. Of artifice. As a way to burn through the ego and get to something more authentic, more spontaneous, more honest, more alive. I believe the truly revolutionary thing I am trying to do here is to study and reveal process. Process is our mess--it’s what happens on the way to what we show to the world. But I think process is what’s most interesting and valuable because it is how we learn, and how we learn is a big part of who we are.
One of the essential truths about me is that I am a performer. Now, I am not sure if a performer is the same thing as an extrovert, but certainly the two are related. However, I think the essential difference is that performance has around it an air of make-believe. Even if the performer is being him/herself to a certain degree, there is an assumed set of imaginary rules, an invisible (or sometimes visible) stage, frame or context that heightens what is being performed. A performer is creating, ideally, with a certain degree of spontaneity. Another aspect of performance that differentiates it from say, drawing, or writing, is physicality. The body. This is not to say that the body is not involved in drawing or writing, but usually not consciously--not for me anyway. The body is not usually a part of the creative process (except in the case of performance art, or artists who use their body as part of the work.) In performance—music, dance, acting—the body is the mode of communication in a more conscious way. I have really missed that. Performance is also about being seen. Making a more direct connection with the viewer. The viewer becomes the audience—it is more reciprocal. This kind of reciprocity is what I long for. There were moments of performance in zoelab 365, but it certainly was not the main focus, and the kind of blogging I did did not inspire performance. Performance is also a very vulnerable thing—the spontaneity lends itself to that kind of vulnerability which is both an attraction and a fear for me. I am not sure if I was fully ready to embark on that kind of journey—as putting myself out the public in the way that I have was already a new and risky thing. By now, after doing it every day (or nearly every day) I have gotten used to it.
What I learned is happiness is not a final destination, but a goal that is in the background of every choice I make. It is a pursuit. Perhaps satisfaction is really the state I am heading towards, and satisfaction is certainly not an outwardly-measured state. Satisfaction has everything to do with the meaning I make and the point of view I take.
When it comes to color, composition and style I have a very good eye as a photographer, however, I possess a certain laziness when it comes to technical skill. After being a photographer for twenty five years, I still basically don’t know how to use a flash, and therefore, almost never use one (except when shooting grass or trees or bugs—which looks awesome with a flash). The camera I use for most of my photos, except for my earlier work which was shot with a Nikon 35 mm film camera, is a Canon G12. It’s a great camera—but it is not at all a professional-level camera. It’s perfect for my everyday uses. I have mixed feelings about creating images that are “magazine style” – one of the key ingredients for this kind of imagery is using an SLR (single lens reflex) that creates short depth of field. This makes all photos look more professional, even when shot by an amateur. I have mixed feelings because an aspect, not only of my aesthetic, but of my art ethic is what as known in the music world as a “punk rock ethic,” or a “do it yourself” ethic. I have always been interested in exploring the high art/low art crossover, and the everyday ness of certain kind of art forms. I like the work to be accessible that gives people a feeling of “I can do that too!” And yet, at the same time, I do want my images to look as good as possible—I may be able to express even more creativity through having a camera that is that much sharper. That being said, one of my new goals is to explore using a higher quality camera--using Lucas’ 40D or even his new Mark 2 to get better, cleaner, sharper shots.
It was nearly impossible to recover/make up for a missed post. There were weeks where I tried for a while, but I’d get too behind, and then I had to put a little hole so that I could keep up with the current day I was blogging about.
I love having something creative I do every day, but having to share it everyday created more drama in my life than I would like.
I would say loneliness was a big part of why I decide to do this project. The interesting thing is my loneliness does not have a self pity feeling to it--I recognize that I could live a less lonely existence if I wanted, but I recognize some part of me needs loneliness. That perhaps loneliness is a an important part of my creative process. As is collaboration. This blog did not so much assuage my loneliness as much as clarify it. I think an artist needs both loneliness and connection. Again, it comes down to balance.
Perfection is the enemy of balance. Or rather, if the goal is to live a balanced life—accepting that no one thing is bad, as long is it is in balance with its opposite--then there is no room for perfection.
Sometimes it is my thoroughness, my desire to adhere to truth, my compulsion to do what I said I was going to do, that offers a certain kind of dizzy craziness. My oppressiveness in standards. It was the kind of effort that kept me up past midnight many times per week, or allowed me to let the house get filthy, or to let Emilio watch more videos than I think is good for him. It put a lot of my relationship with Lucas on hold, and made it so I had less time for other activities. It put me out of balance, as most of the work I did here was very Left Brain. I developed my mind and my work ethic more than anything, but I miss the more emotional, sensual parts of creative experience.
I cannot say exactly, but I estimate, that on average, it took 2.5 hours to make a post— after 350 days (I missed 15), that adds up to 875 hours of work, divided by 52 weeks, which is about seventeen hours a week. That is more time than I spend doing anything else other than sleeping—cleaning, cooking, exercising, working, reading, etc. It was a big commitment, but it was so worth it. Though I must be honest, I am so glad it’s about to be over.