What To Do When Your Creative Work Isn’t What You’d Hoped

Each piece of writing illuminates. Sometimes the light is on process, other times on content. Sometimes it’s about learning why we say yes to a word, a phrase, or an idea. Other times it’s why we edit, saying no. Just like life – our choices shine a light on who we are right now.

And now.

This morning, a friend who’d just published his latest (perfect, in my opinion) blog post, was feeling that what ended up on the page didn’t match the quality of his notes. He asked if I could I relate?

Oy! Does the seeming brilliance of my mind always come out on the page? Hardly! Is this a comment on my writing ability or on the delusion of my own grandeur?

Perhaps it’s the over-reliance on language to convey our sensations, our wisdom. The magnificence of life is far better communicated by looking into another’s eyes while they share their story, or through tender lovemaking, or when inhaling the sea air on our morning walk. It’s fully taking in what is before us, deeply and with reverence. It’s why we have Art: words aren’t enough, except maybe Basho’s.

I often tweak each post, even after you, dear reader, get my latest in your inbox – for my clarity and pursuit towards fruition. You read essays-in-progress, and you don’t know at what point you stepped into the conversation. It’s like Matisse, painting the gardens of Givenchy over and over again or like hearing a funked up arrangement of an older Ani DiFranco song on a live album. Art is a constant reworking, seeing with fresh eyes and ears and heart.

I believe in the Wikipedia model – a constantly evolving truth. This speaks to my dislike of most journalistic photography – that we think a snapshot tells the whole story. What IS true in one moment is not necessarily true in the next. Truth is shifty, and ever shifting. Like Ani sings, “it took me too long to realize I don’t take good pictures because I have the kind of beauty that moves.”

Nature is fluid. “Capturing” reality is foolish. It’s thinking you bagged that great African lion on safari, only to mount its head on your wall and discover an empty prize, for his essence has been extinguished. Perfection lies in surrendering, not in holding tight.

Everything is in motion. Our unfolding. Our belief system. Our priorities, and yes, even our values. Let’s not lock ourselves into rigid forms, but rather allow our creativity to flow, flourish, reinvent itself, innovate, turn on a dime.

To my writer friend, I posed this, what if what was left behind needs percolating for some greater purpose? What if what made it into form today serves today, and what didn’t get translated was the “mother”, the starter dough for the next loaf of inspiration?

Judge not, for our creations are also our evolutions.

Honor what comes and keep hitting that Publish button. At the end of our lives the one song, the Uni – Verse!, will be beautiful, as it already is.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Check out this dispatch from last summer, another look at how each piece is part of the whole —>

The Commodore, a $3,000 Toothbrush, & Why I Love Maine

On Distraction, Resistance, And Doing ANYTHING At All Except Writing

Note the time: 9:30am.

Bake a small loaf of Boule. Slather it with butter. Pretend to share with sister. (Here, have the last slice.)

Promise to stop eating dairy and gluten. For the third time this week.

Initiate a private twitter / Facebook group for fellow writers working on their book proposal. Silently acknowledge the smokescreen effect, while basking in self-congratulatory bliss.

Start a notebook called Accomplishments in order to feel even more productive. Replicate this list there. Use colored Sharpies for flair.

Cover desk planner with affirmations and encouragements. Read them out loud in a flowy, New Age-y kind of voice, without irony.

Burn incense. Tibetan, if possible. To light, use matchbox from Brooklyn restaurant. Feel hip, yet irked at paying $5.25 an oyster.

Pick up a pen and open notebook with book outline. Stare out window. Notice the rear tire on car is flat.

Meditate for 10 minutes to regroup.

When the muse arrives, with probing questions that spark, quickly put the pen down, walk into the living room and engage in conversation with sister. What’s her take on Karl Marx, Mitt Romney, and the plight of the proletariat?

Check the mail to see if the W2 from last summer’s gig with the schooner arrived yet. Calculate the impact that $8/hour will have on Social Security benefits. Wonder why you went to that overpriced Brooklyn restaurant?

Start making the bed for the first time since childhood.

Peruse stack of last year’s magazines with scissors and a glue stick, justifying “craft hour” by creating a visionboard. Cut out picture of Loire Valley Castle and hope someday you’ll have a remarkable story to tell, when you realize the home you’re living in IS EXACTLY THE SAME CASTLE YOU CUT OUT OF WORLD OF INTERIORS TWENTY YEARS AGO. OMG! Somebody call Oprah.

Snap the hell out of it.

Refill cup with decaf, since quitting the caffeine / sugar rollercoaster. Convince yourself that decaf tastes the same as regular and that the square of chocolate in your hand is medicinal.

Decide today would be a great day to begin that Understanding The Brain DVD course ordered after the holidays. Feel smarter for doing so, but less so once the professor starts explaining the principles of neural science. Scrunch up face at the first exercise: Why do you think saltatory conduction in myelinated axons would be faster than conduction in unmyelinated axons?

Turn off DVD and check book proposal group on Facebook for any new messages. Let guilt wash over you.

Pick up the kettlebell and do 50 kettlebell swings. Curse Tim Ferriss when your forehead and palms sweat.

Note the time: 2:15pm.

Thank Tim Ferriss for renewed energy and focus.

Sit down at computer and finally begin writing.

Ichi-go Ichi-e

Japanese Garden

I’m going to come clean with you today. Give you a peek into one of those drawers I usually keep bolted tight.

I do most things half-assed.

Yeah. That feels really good to admit.

Sure, I can rhapsodize about excellence and the well-designed life and having a Virgoan’s superior attention to detail. But I’d be kidding both of us. There’s so much more to my capabilities than I recognize and develop and a whole lot of potential that’s just growing hairy penicillin in the back of my medicine cabinet.. If I don’t reverse this, rigor mortis of my art and work may just set in.

When I was living in Roppongi, the ex-pat neighborhood of Tokyo, a few years back, I was part of the opening team of a new restaurant. I knew a lot about the business, and was expert in our company’s culture. What I didn’t realize was that the Japanese generally give a new venture ONE chance to prove itself. If we didn’t win our guests over during their first visit, they would never come again.

This brought a whole other level to our preparations, because once the novelty wore off, our best foot forward is what we’d be judged on. That’s pressure enough to change the game. In the more forgiving U.S., we’re all about innovation, tweaking, upgrading – it’s ongoing, but in Japan, more goes into the design process before the debut, to present the best possible product or service, than we probably do by the time we get down to our fifth version.

We live in a ‘good enough’ society. We settle. We get by. Sometimes that’s OK, and sometimes we suffer for it.

There’s an ancient proverb in Japan, derived from the grace and beauty of the tea ceremony:  Ichi-go Ichi-e. “One lifetime, one encounter.”  It means to bring full attention and complete sincerity to your actions, because each moment only exists once and must be fully realized and lived.

I was reminded of this last night, as I was dining with friends at Bizen in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The owner, Michael Marcus, is not just the sushi chef, but he’s also a potter who apprenticed in Bizen, Okayama Prefecture and creates all the dishware used in his restaurant. His unglazed pieces are fired for 12 days, just once a year, in a large kiln he’s built on his property nearby. Talk about getting it right the first time!

We connected over a shared love of trekking and all things Nippon. He gave us a tour through his private tatami rooms dedicated to chado (tea ceremony) and kaiseki (a seasonal, multi-course meal), and his stunning, hand-crafted collection of vases.

The care, dedication, and passion he brought to both his pottery and our dinner was without question. He won us over by giving his full attention and heart to our experience. I used to do this, too, when I was serving others. But now that I’m in the service of myself, I think it’s time my inner CEO call a board meeting.

My best work is lying fallow. There’s a reason, yes, and that I’ll explore in my next post, but for now, suffice it to say that I’m committing – with you as my witness – that Ichi-go ichi-e is my new mantra.

Because once I devote to giving it EVERYTHING ~ to being my own best critic before I step in front of the mic ~ to crafting the most exquisite container for my bouquet ~ then I will truly be alive.

Hold me to this, I ask of you. My life depends on it.

The Thunderous Clap Of The Full Moon

Kayaking Megunticook River, Maine SunsetYou are what you surround yourself with.

Lately, I can’t be still long enough to eat breakfast, write a post, a chapter in my book, or do the dishes without flitting around like a nervous hummingbird. Normally playing inside is some radio broadcast like Democracy Now or Morning Maine on WERU, or a dance-to-it Pandora or Genius playlist. I like a stimulating aural environment, yet since moving recently, I’ve been disinclined towards manufactured sound in my new space. What wafts in from the surrounding wooded hillside provides plenty of ambient chirp and chatter. When I listen closely, the rustling branches, whose sways hypnotize through wide skylights, whisper to me to turn off the computer, the Netflix, the modern technological impositions to concentration and creativity. Skittish as a dragonfly, I’m regretfully honing to a steel glint an attention span more suitable for a fourteen year old with ADHD.

Completely at odds with my meditation practice, eh?

Seems I’ve got my feet on the brake and the gas simultaneously and if I remember from Ms. Ewanciw’s ninth grade math class correctly, [ + times – equals -], which means I’m a poor conductor of electricity – that creative spark every writer needs for propulsion. What good are rituals and discipline if I’m training my mind right out of focus?

Kayaking Megunticook River, Maine Island Sunset

So last night I go low, low enough to be eye level with the water – that surefire conductor, and paddle up the hyalescent Megunticook River. My savage beast is quietly tamed by rhythmic paddling and harmonic birdsong. That one music turns off while another turns on is the Rx for all that insanely eddys and ails. Outside of time, I ponder lily pads and heron flight and the splashes of just-missed fish feeding on the bugs of dusk.

So sublime. Ahhhhhh…

The boil thus reduced to a simmer, inspiration glides near, throwing golden coins into the water around me like I’m the fountain, a wellspring, the bestower of wishes. Seduced by the setting of these rippling sunstreaks and mesmerized by the coquettish moon peaking behind a wash of clouds, my relaxed and fertile mind receives the planting of a new seed.

Kayaking Megunticook River in July, Maine Island Full Thunder Moon

I drift back to the sandy shore, pull my kayak out of the water, and pause before heading home. The discovery of such a lovely spot minutes away feels like being baptized; I am submerged in deep appreciation. How have I let the falsely urgent crowd out the important? This natural beauty taken for granted! Such foolishness…

Back under darkened skylights, in centered calmness, I sit and write. And write and write and write – outlining chapters and anecdotes, developing theme and tone – any and all jumbles merely sequences and friendly tangents that will illustrate and illuminate this freshly waterborne idea. Only a few days ago I was distraught over my riches: having so many good projects…how could I ever choose which to cultivate? Too many sometimes is just that: too many. What I longed for was THE ONE. The one that would propel me out of creative logjam and launch me, like Tigger, into joyful action.

Yes! Clarity emerges. Focus and Direction hold hands, winking slyly at me.

To refine this new germination, I consult the I Ching, an ancient Chinese method of divination and guidance. I throw 3 coins, resulting in 54, Changing, and my changing lines lead to 51, Shock / Thunder. Curious, as tomorrow is the full moon (in July often referred to as the Full Thunder Moon), I put the burgeoning project into the reading’s context:

    “The shock of continuing thunder brings fear and trembling. The superior man is always filled with reverence at the manifestation of god; he sets his life in order and searches his heart, lest it harbor any secret opposition to the will of god. Thus reverence is the foundation of true culture.” (~from the 1950 Wilhelm translation of the I Ching)

Anew, I surround myself with fluidity, with natural rhythms, with less 21st century madness. I bring reverence to the well, not to the chariot of technology, so when the thunder comes, I will not be deterred.

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Want more? Here’s a post I wrote on the I Ching: a poem of engagement.
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xo Kellie

Weebles Wobble, But I Don’t Fall Down

For a significant time in my life, I tended bar and waited tables and eventually reached a level of mastery that only comes after years in the profession.  In order to get and stay employed at upper tier establishments, you must meet demanding criteria with excellence, and make it look second nature.  Once, a fellow apron-in-the-trenches, Raven, observed that while it may seem to someone peering in from outside or to a server-in-training all graceful and effortless, it’s actually harder than it appears, and can be interpreted as a more accessible job than it really is.  Cultivating an efficient, hospitable presence in the midst of crying babies, hungry diners, first dates, and VIP business deals calls for a complex recipe.  Oenophilic knowledge, reflexive prioritization, vast patience, and a fluid physicality with an intimately choreographed and fast-paced dance among tables, swinging kitchen doors and moving human targets are all ingredients that create an illusion of a seamless, well-edited film.  She was right, we made it look easy, and we earned our Oscar every single night.

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Despite proficiency and agility, it’s not always wine and roses.  Steve, another veteran colleague, adds one crucial perspective that can make the difference between a shift feeling like an Amazonian jungle drive with no struts or shocks, and cruising the Autobahn in a cushy, air-conditioned Beemer. In industry jargon, being ‘in the weeds’ means you’re on a sinking ship, you NEED HELP NOW, all hell’s breaking loose, and the wreckage is piling up.  Sometimes no amount of technical ability can save you from this kind of disaster.  With his signature wry wit, he offers this wise salve, “Kellie, you can’t be in the weeds, if you just. don’t. care.”

Contemplate that for a moment.

When pressure mounts – a raucous table tries to flag you down for their third bottle of wine, another wants to send back undercooked steak that they ordered rare, the chef is yelling for you to pick up hot plates, crema on an espresso is fading at the counter and your barista won’t be too pleased to make it over, and the host just seated an ornery family of eight in your station – it’s hard to all hold hands and sing Kumbaya.  The last thing that will help is grasping for perfection and squeeeeezing tight.  Instead, give up.  Stop caring about the mess, the stress, doing your best.  Embrace chaos and move through the madness.  Keep humor in your pocket; toss the-sky-is-falling panic.  Once you stop caring that you’re in the weeds, sanity and order swiftly return.

This is how I finally came to write.  For too long, I harbored lofty views of what writing should be – gazed up on vaunted writers as gods – Faulkner, Dickens, Hemingway, Twain – as anyone with literary ambitions would.  I intensely pulsed with visions of grand words and clever turns of phrase like the masters.  I toted high ideals, yet felt low and too intimidated to put pen to paper for fear that I could nary craft as expert a sentence as theirs.  Nothing I wrote would be good enough, much less perfect, so why even try?  In essence, my wish to be a great writer actually prevented me from ever seriously commiting.  What use is that?  So I alternated between fits of private prose and artistic abstinence, but always ended up disappointed in myself.  Journals got filled, shelved, forgotten.  Yes, Mr. Famous Author, follow me right this way to your corner table.

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Then I remembered how I did what I did for a living, and the philosophies of Raven and Steve.  There was the answer, the road to freedom. I acknowledged that it would take years to achieve mastery, if ever, and I stopped caring about being top-notch.  I didn’t need to be a great writer.  I didn’t even need to be a good writer.  I laid down striving for perfection.  Starving for expression, all I had to do was write.

At once, my first gig waiting tables, back when I was far from competent, came rushing into memory.  One night early on I dropped an entire tray of frozen pina coladas and other frou-frou drinks all over a poor little girl who had the misfortune of sitting beneath me.  Out of mortifying embarrassment I laughed uncontrollably, while she burst into frightened tears.  It was all so horrible, but I cleaned up the mess, got on with the shift, and went back to work the next night and then the night after that.  I persevered, got less clumsy, and built up skills.

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We’re rarely good straight out of the gate;  so when I ask a friend, a best-selling author, for beginning writerly advice he offers up the same, wise morsel – make as many mistakes as I can.  So I do, continually, and it’s OK because now I’ve learned not to care about looking foolish or amateur.  All I want to do is write and have fun doing it.

This week, I sit cross-legged in yoga class, prayerful hands in front of my heart, post-OM, pre-asanas and the instructor, about to lead the group in a series of balancing poses, suggests we set an intention for our evening’s practice.  Before I can think up one, she shares hers – to wobble.  She actually intends to sway, to teeter.

Let go, whispers the universe!

Kapow!  I finally get it… Validity exists in shakiness as much as in stability.  When we’re trying to ground, find steadiness on one foot, arms akimbo, torso bent forward, and we falter – indeed, that is exactly when to accept imbalance – it’s integral to the pose, and not as I’ve long thought, failing.  I’ll never be in the weeds again.

As soon as I embrace the wobble, the imperfection, I stop falling down, and finally begin.

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