The Flight and Funk of Creativity

Last year, I departed Italy on October 31st. This year, I left for Italy on October 31st. I could get really heady about that and how it’s a day of death and renewal, but it’s likely just coincidence.

Anyway, I’m back in Italy.

My friends are getting married in Rome over Thanksgiving, and not being one to waste an entire ticket to Europe on only a few days of festivity, I contacted the woman for whom I housesat last year and she was happy to have me back for another three weeks.

Travel magic.

It’s a beautiful, rural three-storey stone home. As rustic as it gets, but with all the conveniences a modern day woman needs: hot water, WiFi, flushing toilets . . . that’s it, right?

Last time I was here, I’d been living in Los Angeles and was eager to get away from everybody. Eager to be alone, to have empty space in which to begin and create life as a writer.

This time around, I’m not coming from a bustling city; I’m coming from the better part of a year already spent in a general state of solitude.

This time, I looked to the housesit as more of a trial in ascetic living. A good trial. But a trial. A stoic house arrest.

a tuscany stone up on a verdant hill

Why go to Italy and keep myself on house arrest? Well, just because I’m here doesn’t mean I can act like a tourist. Being homeless and all, since I had to buy the ticket here it made more sense to live for free on this side versus figuring out a November housesit in the States.

So, I try to live like I would live anywhere else. But no car, no bustling town nearby, and no people. Just hiking trails in the backyard, two dogs, an insane cat, and three jumpy alpacas.

The time difference means that friends and the social media world are mostly inactive while I work. What a distraction that eliminates. And what a separateness.

The isolated location means there are no male disturbances (except for a 64-year-old Luciano. He’s been separated from his wife of forty-two years for the last five. But . . . they still live together. Thus, he finds excuses to pop over and check on helpless Meggan. Do I need help obtaining the wild boar you hunted over the weekend? Yes, yes Luciano, I do.)

This place is incredible. It’s everything you could want in a house arrest.

But the first ten days here I struggled. My productivity wasn’t at last year’s level, and I fell into a funk.

The Funk of Fruitlessness

I wanted half of my working day to be sucked up by reading books—it’s a favorite past time and this place is perfect for it. It was on my to-do list, but after eight hours at the computer editing or writing, my brain would be turned to mush.

The lack of achievement on this basic task began to chew away at the base of my brain.

I was disappointed in myself and feeling listless from my inability to explain why I was failing. I guess I’d fallen into the trap of expectations: I’d expected to read as much as last year, and I wasn’t.

(expectations: so insidious that you forget your own advice within weeks of disseminating it at-length.)

overlooking hills and mountains in italy

I finally figured out the problem. The solution was embarrassingly simple.

Say you’re a cellist. You’re invited to play at a symphony and you study the music, practice, join with the others, and—sheet music before you—you play the show of a lifetime.

You’re invited back next year, you practice and study, and show up on the day of the show without the sheet music. You’ve done this before, you know your potential. And you screw up. Over and over. Symphony ruined.

Me? I’ve been showing up each day without sheet music. I expected success without infrastructure—to simply fall into the pattern of productivity since I’d been productive in this environment before.

The crucial ingredient—my sheet music—was not available time or to-do lists, but scheduling.

I know. Stupid. Easy. Ridiculous.

 

What Gets Measured Gets Mastered

I had a goal and an expectation. I didn’t have a plan.

I want to believe that I am more complex than that, my issues more teeming with existential undertow. But all it took was scheduling out my day with a specific timing plan to get me back on track.

I’m disappointingly simple: there are things that make me work well, and things that don’t. I get lost in tasks if there’s no clock to measure and dictate progress. What gets measured gets mastered.

For you, it might be some other simple ingredient. Scheduling is my productivity hack, but maybe you need background music, timed breaks, or a specific routine.

If you’re cocky like me, you like to think you can side-step your basic needs. Do things however you want, whenever you want. You assume your creativity to flow gently, unfettered. But nay, she is a fickle creature of the mental underworld.

Measured, logical actions help lure her out and provide a safe space in which to play.

Sometimes, creativity has to be prompted and hacked with the utter lack thereof (i.e. boring logic and tactics). It’s a hard lesson to accept, but that ol’ dame creativity seems hellbent on teaching it.

 


What are your productivity hacks? Do you forget them? I’d love it if you leave a comment below.

(p.s. all these are my pics of the current digs)

What Rules Rule You?

When updating my Brainfoods page recently, I recalled one of my favorite quotes from Essentialism.

“The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away—it can only be forgotten.” -Greg McKeown

At first glance it might seem the quote is about societal and cultural rules. For example, most of us grow up believing we must achieve the following:

  • College
  • Job after college
  • Family after job
  • Monogamy
  • Retire
  • Hopefully travel, etc. etc….

Then there are the “rules” we apply to the minutiae of daily life:

  • Read something every day
  • Exercise 5x per week
  • Style hair such-and-such way
  • Go to bed by 10
  • Call mom once a week
  • Eat dessert infrequently
  • Attain X progress with Y project
  • Etc. , etc…

But let’s face it: we don’t have to do anything in any particular way. Especially random personalized rules we’ve arbitrarily instated upon ourselves.

(Nor must we do the big societal ones, but they can be more difficult to overcome. More on that later.)

a cement wall w/ "stay off wall" spray painted on it

Over the last year, I journaled everyday. Somewhere within that time, I unconsciously decided that journaling was a requirement for my “productive” existence. I decreed it part of my narrative, of who I was as a writer.

Though I enjoy journaling, the thought of “you must journal” eventually caused me to rebel. But it had become such an unspoken requirement of my existence that once I began veering, it felt I was screwing up life somehow.

Nobody was holding me accountable. Perhaps we could say I was, but I hadn’t even consciously created this rule. Instead, I’d created a formless godlike point-keeper to leer down and judge my break from routine as wrong.

I worried, I chastised, I tried different hours and different techniques to win back my journaling passion…but the rebel was too strong.

For a month or two, the journaling stopped, but the guilt remained.

Then I read about the Bullet Journal. It incorporates the written techniques I use every day to stay organized (calendar, to-do list, note-taking, etc.), but everything goes into one notebook. And, you know…if you feel like it…you can journal, too.

So, basically, it’s an everything journal. Here’s my favorite webpage explaining the bullet journal method.

Anyway, I tried it…and I’m a convert. And I’m journaling again. Not as much as before, but more than nothing.

(At least until I begin losing interest and once again beat myself up during the time it takes to find something new.)

Or maybe I’ll have learned my lesson by then—that changing preferences isn’t a sign of moral and productive decay.

Sometimes things just exit our lives.

bullet journal journaling style

So this bullet journal is Spanish, and thus is not my own. also, I am not nearly so beautiful about it. But you can be.

We don’t have to judge ourselves for losing interest when we’ve given something a fair shot; deep down, we’re making an unforeseeably important choice.

We decide to unclasp the hand. It’s not giving up—it’s choosing.

Habits don’t abandon us because we become unworthy, we abandon habits because we make a choice—conscious or not.

I chose to give up a certain style of journaling, and in the process of [self-flagellating] release, I found something even better. The abandonment was necessary, the self-flagellation was not.

What are you unwilling to let go of out of fear that something else won’t come along?

In an era where psychological evolution moves more quickly than physical, if we commit to mental stagnation, then stagnant is how we’ll stay.


Hey, I like you. Tell me something in the comments below…Oh, and sign up to receive 1-2 weekly articles in your inbox 🙂

photocred:photopin.com

When updating my Brainfoods page recently, I recalled one of my favorite quotes from Essentialism.

“The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away—it can only be forgotten.” -Greg McKeown

 

At first glance it might seem the quote is about societal and cultural rules. For example, most of us grow up believing we must achieve the following:

  • College
  • Job after college
  • Family after job
  • Monogamy
  • Retire
  • Hopefully travel, etc. etc….

Then there are the “rules” we apply to the minutiae of daily life:

  • Read something every day
  • Exercise 5x per week
  • Style hair such-and-such way
  • Go to bed by 10
  • Call mom once a week
  • Eat dessert infrequently
  • Attain X progress with Y project
  • Etc. , etc…

Beg Your Pardon?

Let’s face it: we don’t have to do anything in any particular way. Especially random personalized rules we’ve arbitrarily instated upon ourselves.

(Nor must we do the big societal ones, but they can be more difficult to overcome. More on that later.)

a cement wall w/ "stay off wall" spray painted on it

Over the last year, I journaled everyday. Somewhere within that time, I unconsciously decided that journaling was a requirement for my “productive” existence. I decreed it part of my narrative, of who I was as a writer.

Though I enjoy journaling, the thought of “you must journal” eventually caused me to rebel. But it had become such an unspoken requirement of my existence that once I began veering, it felt I was screwing up life somehow.

Nobody was holding me accountable. Perhaps we could say I was, but I hadn’t even consciously created this rule. Instead, I’d created a formless godlike point-keeper to leer down and judge my break from routine as wrong.

I worried, I chastised, I tried different hours and different techniques to win back my journaling passion…but the rebel was too strong.

For a month or two, the journaling stopped, but the guilt remained.

 

Back to Basics

Then I read about the Bullet Journal. It incorporates the written techniques I use every day to stay organized (calendar, to-do list, note-taking, etc.), but everything goes into one notebook. And, you know…if you feel like it…you can journal, too.

So, basically, it’s an everything journal. Here’s my favorite webpage explaining the bullet journal method.

Anyway, I tried it…and I’m a convert. And I’m journaling again. Not as much as before, but more than nothing.

(At least until I begin losing interest and once again beat myself up during the time it takes to find something new.)

Or maybe I’ll have learned my lesson by then—that changing preferences isn’t a sign of moral and productive decay.

Sometimes things just exit our lives.

bullet journal journaling style

So this bullet journal is Spanish, and thus is not my own. also, I am not nearly so beautiful about it. But you can be.

We don’t have to judge ourselves for losing interest when we’ve given something a fair shot; deep down, we’re making an unforeseeably important choice.

We decide to unclasp the hand. It’s not giving up—it’s choosing.

Habits don’t abandon us because we become unworthy, we abandon habits because we make a choice—conscious or not.

I chose to give up a certain style of journaling, and in the process of [self-flagellating] release, I found something even better. The abandonment was necessary, the self-flagellation was not.

What are you unwilling to let go of out of fear that something else won’t come along?

In an era where psychological evolution moves more quickly than physical, if we commit to mental stagnation, then stagnant is how we’ll stay.


Hey, I like you. Tell me something in the comments below…Oh, and sign up to receive 1-2 weekly articles in your inbox 🙂

photocred:photopin.com

What Will You Miss?

Sometimes, when you’re not watching, the mess grows into something too large to handle.

Something has to be done.

You stand there, arms akimbo, surveying the room. What’s to stay? What’s to go?

Each item you pick up, take in, turn in your hands. You set it back upon the shelf, but grasp it once again before the hand pulls away.

What did it mean to you? Why does it remain?

view of a desk in a room with a mirror

The problem when things get out of hand like this is that the cumulative weight of their needless existence catches in your bones, causes you to move more slowly.

Sometimes you have to get rid of everything, or nearly, to figure out what you’ll miss. What you needed at all.

Keep the bed, the toothbrush, the books, the pen.

Keep the essentials, let go of the rest.

 


 

Your thoughts? Leave a comment below…(oh, and sign up to receive 1-2 weekly articles in your inbox 🙂

 photocred:photopin.com

 

When Do You Harvest Yourself?

This August finds me in a whirlpool.

It’s not always a bad thing. But it is a thing. You know the feeling? 

Consolation comes from knowing that I was in this exact whirlpool last August, too.  

Something about sensing life was about to change, that life needed to change, but reaching that oblique “changed” point could only be done with blind steps into the mire.

Being here again makes me think about years, and seasons.

It’s been said that the human condition follows a relative harvest year (not necessarily congruent with regional climates). So…

Spring/Planting → Ideas-Action-Creativity

Summer/Upkeep → Results-Outcomes-Maintenance (weeding)

Autumn/Harvest → Results of Effort-“What’s Next?”-Preparation for winter

Winter/Death → Doubt-Scarcity-Incapacity

On and on, the season cycle continues.

It certainly seems applicable to my past year. If so, winter has begun. All my habits have been falling off. Even morning journaling—a stalwart for 10 months—has diminished.

Much that’s been planted, loved, grown, and harvested now seems lethargic or inert. It’s scary. My first impulse is to figure out what’s wrong, but maybe it’s just frozen ground for a while.

Natural—not wrong.

If the seasons theory holds, productivity should come again, sooner or later.

This reminds me of something else: love. Ever noticed a similar cycle play out in relationships?

person in the middle of a whirlpool

Anyway, that’s all I have. I’m in New Zealand with the prospects of spreading roots here for the foreseeable (short-ish-term) future. Fittingly enough, it’s winter here. I wonder what’s next.

I’d love to hear your thoughts? Leave ’em below.

photo:photopin.com

The Beans of Overanalysis

My psychologist tells me I tend to overanalyze things. She is not the first loved-one to do this.

I finally asked her, “Do you mean compared to other people?”

“Well, yes.”

This surprised me. What do others do during the quiet stretches of mental solitude? What do people talk about?

Years ago I might have taken Carole’s comment as a badge of honor, but not anymore.

Overanalyzing doesn’t lead to answers, it leads to the illusion of answers. It’s like stirring a pot of beans and expecting them to become something other than beans. They only become more mushy.

Analysis has it’s benefits. It gives us space and time to empathize, strategize, and creativit-ize.

But analysis is also an excuse for inertia. Analyze instead of act.

Or a way to feel an [often false] sense of control over current situations or outcomes that don’t yet exist and may never come to be.

 


 

I forgot to write a blog post last week. Since October, I’ve written at least one weekly, but suddenly–poof— the habit disappeared. Realizing this, I began to catastrophize:

“What’s going on with me? How could I forget? Where is my mind? Do I still care? Am I losing heart? Am I letting love distract me too much? Am I weak? Emotionally detached? Hiding from myself?”

These thoughts have been visiting me now for five days. I finally sat down to write about it, and lookie here, I’m writing a post. I’m not coming apart at the seams.

Failing to do something I love didn’t mean I don’t love it anymore.

In fact, maybe last week’s issue was that my family was visiting while I was simultaneously preparing for an open-ended trip to Asia and Africa that would last at least two months.

Maybe it was just that.

Analysis often has little to do with the plans life actually has in store. But the living continues.

I’m going to just try to live.

meggan feeding a monkey in bali


On that note, what do you think about most of the time? I have a feeling a lot of my readers are fellow over-analyzers. But what else? How do you deal? Leave a comment!

photocred: photopin.com & my friend in Bali

Now, When All the Moments are for You

You didn’t make the wrong decision.

There is no wrong decision.

It doesn’t exist behind you, nor in the minds of yourself or others. It doesn’t exist anywhere.

There was never any outcome with judgment attached to it. There was just an outcome. That’s all.

We exist rather negligibly in a gargantuan universe. Applying a subjective human judgment system to the outcomes we think we’ve created is a bit…grandiose.

Every moment leading to now has simply been a stepping stone. Every moment has served one singular purpose: to get you to now, and now, and (wait for it)…now.

Lucky for you, the now decisions are the only ones that matter. Not because they will procure “good” or “bad” results, but because with every “now” moment, you are given a choice to start over: move toward fulfillment or move away from it.

It sounds simple—painfully so. Shouldn’t life be more difficult? More complex and exacting?

a river with stepping stones

So, the question is this:

Is now moving you toward where you want to be?

Not where you want to be in ten years or forty, but where you want to be in the next moment. We’re not living for a future life. We’re living for this life. Now.

Do you feel the nudge of instinct pushing you toward fulfillment? Do you follow?

Or—

Are you going through the motions? Letting a blueprint embossed upon your brain from schooling, culture, and/or familial norms make the decisions for you?

It’s not about knowing where the stepping stones lead—we can’t know.

It’s about enjoying what’s under your feet.

Now.


I write something like this to myself because I need to remember how I can’t control everything. My decisions are only decisions; when I look back at all the times I think I’ve screwed up or gotten it right, it all just seems to equal out.

It all has gotten me to here. “Here” is a place I enjoy…but I’d enjoy it more if I could stop worrying about whether or not I’m doing the right thing.

Here’s to now, at any rate!

I’d love to hear from you—leave a comment or subscribe to follow!