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February: Cycles

After getting through January, looking at a calendar, February inevitably always looks short. Of course, February (when not in a leap year) is only three days shorter than the month before, and yet there’s something about that cushion of time that makes January feel so much longer. 

This reminds me of a poem that I read last month, on cold water swimmer Gilly McArthur’s Instagram:
“Thirty days have September,
April, June and November, unless a leap year is it’s fate,
February has twenty eight
but all the rest have three days more...
excepting January, which has six thousand
one hundred and eighty four.”
-Brian Bilston

I for one was happy for January to be done with. It was a more difficult month than I had anticipated, the result of a combination of winter blues, too much political news, a seemingly endless pandemic, a knowledge that I needed to hibernate and let ideas marinate, but also the voice in my head constantly asking, “but what are you doing?” It didn’t leave me feeling very creative or motivated. 

I asked around and I wasn’t alone. Many of my friends had felt slower, more tired, sad, less creative during the last month. We commiserated. And then there were others who felt the perks of the new year, who were rejuvenated by winter days. They also commiserated—after all, they too had been in down moments before.

The more I talked to people the more I was reminded of how cyclical our lives are, from our moods to our creativity. There are ups and downs, ebbs and flows. Despite a near constant cultural demand for productivity and output, we’re never all at the same pace or place. We are moving, fluctuating, navigating. 

Cycles are our constant. We are surrounded by them. 

A calendar marks a cycle. We track our movements from one month to the next, all of them adding up into a full year before we start over again. Then there’s the seasonal cycle. We watch winter change into spring, the days grow long and extend into summer, the temperatures cool as we head into fall, and then finally we sink back into the dormancy of winter again. 

A day is a cycle, a chance for renewal every time we wake up in the morning. Some cycles are longer, like solar cycles that occur in 11-year periods, and the Saros cycle (about 6,585.3 days, which comes out to 18 years 11 days 8 hours) that governs eclipses. Then there are those which don’t really have a precise time period, simply ongoing, like the lifecycle taking place right below our feet, decomposing matter turning into soil, then facilitating the growth of new life. There are all kinds of cycles taking place at every moment all around us, above us, underneath us. 



Just yesterday I was reminded of the cycles that can be found in a single day of weather: a gray and cloud-covered afternoon that was on the tipping point of blustery, and only hours later, evolving into a light show of pink and blue. 

Yet while these cycles are the most constant thing that the natural world provides, it is so easy to forget that they reside within us too. 

It’s even more difficult to recognize a cycle when things feels static, and that is exactly what the last 11 months have presented us with. As we move towards March, marking the one-year anniversary of mass lockdowns and full blown pandemic reality, there’s a small sense of hope on the horizon with a vaccine, but overall, most of us are still just slugging through. Avoiding social events, not making plans. Worrying about finances, about family members, about illness, and uncertainty. 

Our everyday lives feel flatlined. That feeling seeps into our consciousness, muddying our ability to acknowledge the cyclical nature of things. So we resist, we push, we struggle, we tire. We fail to come up for air. And we wonder why we feel blocked, why we feel exhausted, why we can’t find a focal point to move towards. 

Wherever you are, remember: this too will change. Because like nature, creativity is cyclical. 

Maybe you are in a “high” moment, a moment of flow, a moment of creation, a moment of inspiration. Or maybe you are in a “low” moment, stuck and wary of obstacles, feeling tired and flat, wondering if there will ever be another good idea that will come your way.  

A cycle is an accumulation of waves. Up and down, up and down. The upper parts of a wave in this cycle, the “crest,” are often the easier ones. These are the times when we feel inspired, fueled, passionate, committed. It’s the low parts, the “trough,” that can be a bit tougher to get through. 



How do we carry ourselves through these low moments of our personal creative cycle? This is where routine and structure come into play. Think of creativity as part of your overall approach to good health. You eat well, you move your body, and you keep your creative brain active. 

Over the last year I have found that the best thing that I can do for myself creatively, even when I feel sluggish and blocked, is to commit to small acts. For the moment, this takes the form of daily drawings. That might look different for you depending on what your own creative routine is - writing, painting, etc. - but think of these daily (or semi-daily) practices like getting regular physical activity, or eating your dose of vegetables, or drinking enough water. They keep you active, keep you present, even in your low moments. More importantly, they keep you active, keep you present, even in your low moments particularly in your low moments. 

Pay attention this month, focus on identifying the cycle. If it’s helpful, start to jot down some notes every day on how you feel about your creativity. If you pay attention long enough, you will start to notice the cycles. This will help to give you more awareness next time you’re in a lull. You will be able to say to yourself, with a little more confidence, “this too will change.”

I have swam in the saltwater every single day since December 1st, another regular routine that has become essential for maintaining balance. Every day the water is different, the sky is different, the temperature is different. Change is constant. On Monday morning this week, the tide was higher than I had ever seen it. After I had come out of the water, showered, dressed in several layers of wool, and started to warm back up again, I checked a tide chart. There it was, clearly marked: one of the highest tides of the month. 



There is something reassuring looking at a tide chart. The ups and downs clearly marked, constant, yet still shifting. There they are, the crests and troughs of a daily cycle that is part of a monthly cycle, that is part of a yearly cycle, that is part of a cycle on a timescale bigger than we can comprehend. 

The tide has a calendar, our creativity doesn’t. Its ebbs and flows are harder to anticipate, can’t be tracked with a calendar or a clock. But they are there, and the best that we can do for our creative selves is to embrace the cyclical nature, work with it instead of against it. 

The thing about a cycle is that it doesn’t stop, it keeps going. And so do we.

-Anna
 


Daily Creativity

A creative routine can be a way of encouraging your mind to let go for a few minutes every day. Especially in hibernation. Daily drawings (or semi-daily, because sometimes I play catch up) have become a very important part of maintaining balance and normalcy for me, so I made another monthly list of prompts. These are prompts with no expectations, just that you show up. I use these as drawing prompts, but they can also be used as writing prompts too. 

Cozy winter trays in the shop right now. Perfect for coffee, treats, and even art supplies.
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