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March: Reflection

A year ago today I was getting ready for the special preview of my Women's Wisdom Project exhibit at Vashon Center for the Arts. Tomorrow, March 6th, marks an exact year since the official show opening. 

100 papercuts that had taken me two years to make. It was such a thrill to see them on the wall, to almost hear their voices speaking to me. For Creative Fuel last year I wrote about some of the lessons I had learned while working on that project. 

The show opened, even though in Washington things were already getting a little tense because of the number of Covid cases. There was hand sanitizer at the door, we were encouraged not to shake or touch hands. I hugged people I knew regardless. 

The show was open for five days before being shut down due to Covid. I didn't know what would come next. I had been so focused on finishing the project I hadn't really been scouting out other work. I was disappointed more people wouldn't be able to go see the show. And in general, I wasn't sure what I would do. 

I think we all have stories like these. Projects and plans that were put on hold, events that were canceled, enormous shifts that took place. Tragedies and traumas that would eventually surface but that we couldn't see yet.

I have been thinking a lot about this in the last week, ruminating on those first few weeks of March 2020, forever etched in my mind in very clear detail. 

There was the show opening, and then there was an event at Book Larder the same weekend interviewing the authors of Joy of Cooking. There was the arrival of my long distance friend Gale, whose stay I think of as one of our final “hurrahs” before things really shut down. There was an excursion to Port Townsend to go walk on the beach, the same day I learned my grandmother had died, and then a dinner with friends in Seattle on the day we learned that schools would close. There was a last minute canceled trip to Australia for my husband, and a book event in Portland I wouldn’t get to go to with some of my closest friends. There was my art hanging in a cafe in the mountain town of Sisters that I was supposed to go and take down, but now would just have to stay up for some unforeseeable amount of time. A few weeks? A month? Who could say... 

And after all that, there was something I can only describe as “space.” The space of uncertainty, the space of unknowing. An island of sorts. Disconnected from everything else, floating out in the sea. 

In those initial months I was focused a lot on doing. Creative projects that I knew would help me, lots of Zoom calls and virtual happy hours with friends. I sent out Creative Fuel Challenge #1 on March 17th, kicking off a series of creativity prompts that I thought might help in uncertain times. For me personally, despite the global anxiety and uncertainty, those first few weeks were somehow still a little special, and an even enjoyable time. It was slower, it was more spacious. I got to watch spring unfold in my backyard, the ferns and floxgloves slowly growing. 

A family tragedy would hit in May that would derail a whole variety of things. In the short term, it would put me in a fog, in the long term, it would give me a larger sense of empathy, compassion, and connection. Things would then continue, as they always do, one day at a time. 

Now here we are. A year later. 

I wrote about cycles last month, and after writing it, finally got to reading Wintering by Katherine May, which a lot of friends had recommended. It reinforced how I was thinking about a lot of things, and it has been on my mind a lot as we start to shift into spring.

For most of us, I think this last year has felt like one long winter. Certainly, there have been bright and glorious spots, like those sunny days that pop up in the midst of gray gloom and that your body feels it simply must take advantage of. But a lot of it has been more of a dormancy, a hibernation. There has been the fear of the dark, the whispers of anxieties turning into loud chatter that never stops, the storms that rage on with no end in sight. 

That’s the kind of time when we have to put more energy toward being than the doing. And if we are doing, it's important to ensure that what we are doing is serving our being. 

Now we are easing into spring, both in a seasonal sense, but also an emotional one. There’s the promise of a vaccine, and that perhaps we will start hugging each other again, going to dinner parties, making plans. But in the glow of that moment, in the warming back up again, part of me is conscious of still holding on to a little bit of winter. The slowness, the hibernation, even a little of the sadness, knowing that it’s often the sadness that can help to make things sweeter. 

I was asked yesterday what advice I would give to someone experiencing a creative block. I thought about it for a bit, and realized that the answer was twofold. In the Before Times, I am pretty sure my answer would have been something along the lines of “do the work anyway.” Doing the work after all is what creativity is really about. 

Now in the After Times I think that I am a little more mindful of the gentleness that is required of us in the midst of blocks and lulls. It’s important to do the work, to keep showing up for our creative selves, but it’s also important to know when to pull back, to rest, to have a mini hibernation. The time to cry, to be sad, to not feel creative. It’s a balance. A balance so that we don’t go into overdrive when we are not quite ready yet, and a balance to keep us mindful that things are always cyclical, whether we’re in our emotional winter, spring, summer, or fall.

I have a prompt for you this month. Something that I hope makes us pay a little more attention to this transition from winter to spring. 

Grab a piece of paper. Draw a line down the middle. On the left side write, “blocks that I have felt during winter.” On the right side write, “what is unblocking right now?”

Consider the blocks (creative or otherwise) that you have felt this winter, or even over the past year. Think about what is shifting, what is changing, what is opening. Write a list under each side. Compare them. Contemplate.

This is a similar prompt that I have done in classes many times, and while I can’t see what you come up with, I am going to make one main guess: On both sides, you will have noted things that feel particular to this past year and this moment. But they are most likely things that you are always contending with. These bullet lists map out your own personal cycles. It’s important to get to know them.

Now, what are you going to do with that? I want you to write some creative intentions. Not goals necessarily, but intentions of how you show up, how you take time for creating, how you take time for rest, etc. 

This is your creative map from the month. 

As I reflect on this last year, I’ve been looking through a lot of my photos from March and April of 2020. There are a lot of plant photos. I was focused on paying closer attention to what was in my own backyard, and what appears on the screen is a documentation of growth and evolution. Changes I tried to pay attention to daily, even when they weren’t that noticeable. Fiddleheads turning to bright green ferns, English daisies covered in frost on late spring cold mornings, budding branches soon exploding with color. 

Nature is a network of tiny things—tiny organisms, tiny movements, tiny growths, tiny changes. This creates the grand world as we know it, both around us, but also within us. If we pay attention to them, we’ll soon realize that we are always changing, always moving. 

What feels like a tiny act—a sentence written on a page, a small drawing, a short walk, a brief cold plunge, finding a new book, coming across a quote—inevitably always builds to something larger. In the small acts we build abundance, and resilience.

While we can only see that larger thing in hindsight and with reflection, we can also trust in the knowledge that we are always building towards it. 


A few additional notes:

Daily Creativity

A creative routine can be a way of encouraging your mind to let go for a few minutes every day. Be gentle without yourself though - do them at whatever pace you need. I am still behind on my February drawings! I use these as drawing prompts, but they can also be used as writing prompts too. Or whatever other creative endeavor feels good. Please oh please someone use one of these as a creative baking prompt.
Women's History Month!

There are a few benefit Women's Wisdom Project prints in my shop (50% of each one is donated to a different nonprofit). And there may be some new things dropping in the shop this month as well, so keep an eye out. Use the code "creativefuel" and you get free shipping. 
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