I’ve had an off and on gratitude practice for about a year now. There was a point in time when I wrote my lists daily–scribbling into the early hours of the morning when I got off work late, making sure I prioritized my lists. Eventually, as I tend to do with many rituals, I stopped. I fell out of practice. I made them when I thought to, which wasn’t frequently. When I did my #100dayproject I truly enjoyed the everyday routine of cutting and pasting to make art and then sharing it with the world via Instagram. It was a fun, unique process that taught me I was an artist beyond the bounds I had told myself to stay in: I could make art.
The first, and only, person who said I was a bad artist was my middle school art teacher. He told me in not to so many words that if he gave me an A, I would have to promise never to take his class again. I had no idea how forming his words would be even 10 years later. I would say “no” to anything that involved art because I wasn’t a good artist. I couldn’t draw, I couldn’t paint. Writing was my vocation and I told myself to stick with it and it only. I was lucky to be good at something.
The first time I came across Tammi it was on Instagram. Her beautiful images lit up my feed. Everyday I (and the rest of the world) were treated to her beautiful Daily Gratitude Lists. I’d look on in awe, knowing she had something I would never.
I decided to do the 100 Day Project after Tammi posted about it. Something about her energy combined with the challenge of 100 days of doing something, anything, had me eager to figure out what. I settled on collage because who can’t collage? I had no idea that over the next 100 days (which for me spanned well into September), I would create art I’d hate, create art I liked, but eventually create art I loved.
One of my first collages hangs on my wall, I’ve given them away as gifts, and recently I turned them into business cards. I don’t love every collage I make, but each time I begin I am overcome with emotion for the process: the process of creating something brand new with my own two hands.
Creativity in general has been something I’ve always turned to when I’m struggling to hang onto anything else. I find deep comfort in turning to a blank page. There’s something safe about the confines of a Word Document or most often than not the back-end of my blog. Often, I can’t predict what I’m going to write which makes the prospect of writing a book (soon…more on this well, soon) daunting. I do know though that every time I sit down to write I’m given a chance to learn more about myself, to dig deeper and harder, to possibly let go of an old story to make room for a new one. This is why I love writing nonfiction, because I am constantly learning more about myself and growing on the page.
Making art is a different form of expression for me. While I can be quite precise, agonizing over the right words when it comes to my writing, my art is more free-flowing. I’m always hesitant at the start, afraid to “mess up,” but I know how foolish that is. My so-called “mess ups” often become pieces I really enjoy.
My former professor and dear friend, Meta Wagner wrote a book on creativity. I was lucky enough to help her in the very early stages. Her book, What’s Your Creative Type?, looks into creative types ranging from the A-Lister to the Activist. The part of the process I enjoyed the most was reading about the artists processes in their own words. I love talking and writing about creating and I love reading about how others do it. I’m really excited to introduce a brand new section to my blog next week where I’ll get to interview creators and makers on their process and how they got to where they are! I have a few really exciting people I’ve already interviewed and I can’t wait to share their responses with you all.
One of my all time favorite people, Elizabeth Gilbert, gave a TED talk a few years ago, called Your Elusive Creative Genius, which I say raised me (at least in terms of writing). I remember being told by a friend to watch it and once I’d watched it through once, I went right back to the beginning and started again. You should watch it too (I’ve included the link below). It’s a wonderful look into EG’s process and I find it super inspirational to hear her talk about her own work and others.
And of course there is Cheryl Strayed’s letter on writing, Write Like a Motherfucker, in her book of advice, Tiny Beautiful Things. I’ve read the letter again just now, and what hits me hardest comes towards the end of her letter:
Writing is hard for every last one of us—straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.
I’ve always loved that sentiment. I truly try to dig in my writing, expand what I already have, and go as far as I think I can. Occasionally I succeed. In my art though I feel like every time I approach the paper I’m already there. I’m at the heart of what I need and want to produce right from the get go. I don’t have as many hesitations. I just do. I feel some shame that it took me until I was 23 years old to figure out that what my art teacher told me in Middle School was a load of crap, but I’ve learned that we figure things out exactly, and no sooner, than we should.
For the best four days my gratitude process has looked like this: I create art for the next day and write my list on the art I’ve created the day before. I love using paint, paper, whatever I can get my hands on. I love thinking about all of the incredibly beautiful things I have in my life that I am thankful for.
Tammi reminded me the other day how important a consistent routine is and how doing something repeatedly without giving up is really important to developing that routine. I’m going to end this post by sharing one of her beautiful gratitude lists. You can see more of her wonderful lists and art here, but also follow along with her this month as she leads us in #tammisgratitudetribe.
Compare and despair
I’m truly feeling my creative fire being stoked. Part of me wants to compare, but I know too well how that lends to DESPAIR. I’m eager to get making for the next few days, stay in my own lane, and remember that as Elizabeth Gilbert says, fear is allowed on the journey, but NEVER allowed to drive.