Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

More Than Words On A Page: My NaNoWriMo Experience

11/12/2018

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It was the last week in November and there I was… Hovering somewhere at about 49,100 words. Just 900 words left and soon I would achieve the unthinkable. I was about to “win” NaNoWriMo. For those unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo (the shortened way of saying ‘National Novel Writing Month’) is an annual challenge where writers around the world dedicate the month of November to working on a novel and reaching a 50,000-word count. For years, I stood looking over the fence at all of these dedicated writers and always thought, “One year I’ll do that…” Finally, after years of lurking, not only did I find myself in the company of these dedicated writers, I was also one of the those who celebrated when my word count crossed over 50K words.

I think one key factor in reaching that goal was my ability to let go of perfection and my inner critic. I let go the idea of doing this whole thing “right” which makes sense since there’s really no right way to write – you only need to sit down and just write. I approached this month of writing with a goal of simply allowing myself to enjoy the writing and creative process, something that I’m practicing more in general. Along with returning to the pure joy of the creative process, I discovered a few other other benefits of participating in NaNoWriMo beyond getting words on the page:

  • I learned how to stop worrying and love the writing process.ย As a result of letting go of perfection, I also found myself detaching from any other perceived outcomes such as getting published. A few people asked me about this to which I answered with what I’ve already said here. In removing such pressure, I gave myself space and permission to enjoy a creative activity while learning a thing or two about the writing process, like that it can be fun. Who knew?
  • Yours in the struggle.ย I had a college professor who used to sign off his emails with ‘Yours in the Struggle.’ I thought of him and that signature as I connected with other writers who were right there with me. These “wrimos” who encouraged me to keep pushing forward, one word at a time, really exemplified the spirit of community. As an example, I spent quite a bit of time with @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter where a Sprint Leader would provide writing prompts and we would “sprint” (that is, just write however much you can in a specified timeframe – a fantastic way to run past that pesky inner editor). There was more than one occasion where I thought, “I’ll just pop in for a half hour of sprinting” then several hours later I’d still be exchanging virtual high fives and words of encouragement to other writers. When you’re trying to write, having a little company feels good and this month reminded me of that.
  • Learning to focus on one idea at a time.ย As someone who can become easily fascinated by new subjects, hobbies, or ideas, I often find myself dreaming up new projects and exploring new interests, which isn’t a terrible trait but it can also be a challenge to manage! Committing to the one story allowed me to really hone in and focus my energy on this one project. Not to say other ideas didn’t still pop up during the month, but I found that taking note of these thoughts would not only help me remember and at the same time, felt like a practice in mindfulness.
  • Speaking of mindfulness… Now that NaNoWriMo is over and I’ve put away my novel for a short break, I find myself continuing to wonder about my main character, her friends, family, and the story itself. Each day, I’m keeping all of my senses alert and open to any detail that might become a thread, however small, in the story that I am trying to create. Sounds a bit like mindfulness, don’t you think?
  • Writing became a habit. I’ve always wanted to be able to call myself a writer but up until this year, I’ve had a hard time doing so. I couldn’t truthfully call myself a writer if I didn’t write often, much less every day. But this month supported me in fostering a habit and need to write. If I don’t at least write a few pages each day – whether professionally or personally – I start to feel itchy.

If you ever dreamt of writing a book or simply need a boost or support to get you started, I do recommend joining the NaNoWriMo community. Visit www.nanowrimo.org to learn more and get inspired! Perhaps even tap me as a writing buddy if you decide to craft your own story in 2019…

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Do You Still Do Yoga?

16/11/2018

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When I first started practicing yoga in the early 2000s, when I was in high school, I must have realized this practice had so much to offer me. I couldn’t really articulate it but I knew something was happening each time I practiced. Back then, I only had a VHS copy of “MTV Yoga.” Yes, thatย MTV, the channel that used to play music videos – and this yoga practice was led by Kristin McGee and hosted by Lori from The Real World (the Back to New York season, in case you’re curious). Yoga wasn’t as readily available as it is now, especially in a small town, so this tape was really my only way of starting a yoga practice – but it was my practice and it was helping me cultivate valuable skills in how to cope with the ups and downs of life, which I desperately needed. My astute parents recognized that this yoga thing was helpful to their anxious and easily-stressed out child so a few nights a week they dismissed me early from farm duties (a privilege for any farm kid) so I was able to have the house to myself and practice along with that beloved VHS tape. That display of love was and still is not lost on me. After being released from chores, I set out to my ritual. I’d clean myself up then change into my comfy sweats and loose-fitting t-shirt, fire up the VCR, pop in the VHS, roll out my purple Gaiam yoga mat (still in use more than 15 years later) and would “get to work.”

Following my practice, after a restful savasana, I’d put away my mat and then often would take myself out for a walk down the side road that runs alongside my parent’s farm. This walk gave me time to enjoy the lingering peace I felt from my yoga practice, not to mention give me a break from the anxiety that had a way of quickly overcoming my mind and body. As I was living my final chapter of high school, I was sitting on the edge of transition and before long would be moving away to Minneapolis for college so these walks were also a time for me to take in my home – my roots as my mom always reminds me. The farm, the soybean and corn fields, the woods that was and always will be a sanctuary for me. This 17-year-old wandering up the gravel road was actually pretty wise for taking this time and for taking it all in – but she didn’t entirely realize it.

I’ve come to recall these memories lately as friends and family ask me, “Do you still do yoga?” I assume they mean the physical practice. The short answer is yes. I still do yoga. Of course, I have a more drawn-out answer. After moving to Manhattan over a year ago, I made an intentional decision to not pursue teaching – not right away. For the previous five years in Minneapolis, I had taught a variety of formats at different venues and the problem was that teaching became my priority; not being a student. I craved simply being a student again and not always have lesson planning at the back of my mind. I needed to take a step back and return to my roots. I needed to channel that 17-year-old walking slowly up the country road.

Quite fortunately, I came to find a beautiful studio called Yoga Shanti within a month of moving to Manhattan. I was immediately drawn in by each teacher’s intelligent sequencing, attention to subtle detail and authentic nature. It also helped that the teachers were simply warm and welcoming, a standard that should be easy to meet but unfortunately in today’s commercialized and saturated yoga world, this is harder to come by than you would think – but I digress. Practicing with these teachers helped me land back into the yoga practice I so love and now realize I had lost in my years of teaching – ironically, I was invited to reconnect with the very ideas that I was trying to teach. Releasing the burden I put on myself while teaching brought me back to the healing that is possible in being a student who is learning how to simply connect mind and body. The idea of mind-body connection is so simple we think it’s abstract. This is one of the first lines I heard from my teacher, Matthew Sanford. I think of that often. Especially when I’m thinking too much.

While I don’t exactly have a quiet country road to walk down here in Manhattan, I have different ways to find yoga in my life today. I have come to realize that my yoga practice takes many different shapes and not necessarily ones you make with your body. I found it once talking to a homeless man named Shawn on the corner of 29th and 5th who slept on the church steps. He hoped to clean up his act enough to be permitted to see his adult daughter and grandchild in Baltimore. He didn’t even ask for money or anything from me. I think he just wanted someone to listen to his story. I’m also the weirdo who while standing shoulder to shoulder with the mess of humanity that is the New York City subway, I can’t help but smile that this too in its own way is yoga. We’re united by the struggle and we’re in it together. Most exciting to me is that taking a step back from teaching yoga and allowing myself to be a student has opened space for me to revisit a lifelong yet often ignored passion – my writing practice. For me, this is just another vehicle to connect with the realization, peace, and healing that I discovered was possible back when I first “did yoga.”

So, do I still do yoga? Yes. In more ways than you can even know – and probably in even more ways that I have yet to realize.

Wisdom in Pencil Shavings

03/08/2018
colored pencil shavings

The main character in this story


On this hot NYC summer day, I’m recalling a time earlier this year when winter was dragging its feet and holding spring hostage. People started to wonder if they had unknowingly fallen asleep, missed summer and woke up in winter again. As you might imagine, after months of cold, wet and dreariness, a person’s spirits need a good lift – especially when the snow starts falling from the sky when the calendar clearly says it’s time for spring… The good news is that this type of heaviness can be countered by pure nourishment, which I personally find in arts and crafts. Sketching, making a collage, even coloring – these all transport me back to childhood when we did things purely for exploration and play.

On one of these long winter nights, I rolled out my yoga mat to set up my arts and craft station. (Yes, I use my mat for practicing poses and crafting – it’s all yoga to me.) I pulled out my pencil sharpeners and emptied them out on the hardwood floor. As I looked down at this dusty little pile, it occurred to me that these messy, colorful shavings looked pretty cool sitting there. At that moment I decided I could probably transform this perceived pile of junk into something fun so I gathered some rubber glue and a piece of durable black construction paper then began to slather rubber glue across the page while sprinkling the spirals of shavings all over. One harvest wasn’t enough to complete the project so I would need to carve all of my pencils to an articulate, sharp point. As I continued to sharpen and glue layers of colored pencil dust to the page, I had a couple of thoughts about creativity and nourishment:

  • This thing that I made isn’t really a good piece of art at all – not in a consumer sense, anyway. But, what’s affirming about the process is simply the joy and lightness of creativity. The result doesn’t always need to become a money maker nor does anyone even need to see it. Something can be made strictly for nourishment – a valuable outcome, too. This nourishment is important to seek, identify and keep close, especially when life begins to feel heavy, grey and dull. We can’t change the fact that we’re experiencing this third winter nor can we mute the grind and noise of the city. We can only take care of ourselves with the tools we have at hand. This feels like true, authentic self-care – which we are all worthy of.
  • The other thing I contemplated was the literal messiness of this project: the glue, scraps of paper and in this case, pencil shavings. Initially, I approached the project with a careful and clean manner, gingerly patting down the shavings to the glue. Then I realized the actual messiness is a big part of the fun and reason for collecting pencil shavings in the first place. So, with gleeful abandon and hands covered in glue and colorful dust, I felt the joy, peace, magic, and nourishment that creating – for the pure sake of creating – reveals in and for me.

All of that. From a humble pile of colored pencil shavings. We all have projects that give us this pure sense of nourishment – our own version of some glue and colored pencil shavings. What’s yours?

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My crafting station/yoga mat and art project

 

Sculpture By The Sea

27/10/2012

Imprisoned caterpillars, a skeleton walking a balance beam and giants made of staples. Sounds like characters from a fantasy novel but these are actually some of the things you will find at the annual spring exhibition, Sculpture By The Sea, another favourite event for Sydneysiders. I am continually impressed by the focus of cultural events in Sydney, one trait that makes this city such a special place. SBTS is a treat for photographers and while I went along equipped with my little point and shoot, the exhibition presents plenty of opportunities for even the most amateur photographer (ahem.. me) to play around with. Cameras aside though, the purpose is to get outside, take in the fresh ocean breeze and enjoy art.


Vivid Sydney

10/06/2012

One of my favourite festivals here is Vivid Sydney, particularly for the amazing display of lights. This past weekend I joined the crowds in a dazzling and stunning collection of lights, sculptures and art. While I’m not brilliant with photography I managed to capture some of the magic from the night.

Customs House Vivid Sydney

Old MCA at Vivid Sydney
Bicycle image on MCA
Vivid Sydney(Above) The kids in front of the screens controlling the movements projected onto the building.

Glowing (Above) Glowing in the light from the blue egg

Chandelier on the Harbour
Bubble lights
Sydney lit up