Every week when I teach a creativity class, I usually ask everyone to share one thing they have done to encourage their creativity that week.
Mine has been a morning bike ride, every single day at 7 or 7:15 in the morning. It’s not an incredibly long ride or interval training. It’s just a ride for a ride’s sake. It’s usually an hour, around 10 miles. We have a few different loops and add ons that take us around our rural community, rediscovering the routes that we know like the back of our hands. On one road, we experiment with where you need to stop pedaling if you want to coast all the way to the stop sign. On another we note that the abundance of blackberries is now gone on account of the brush cutter that went through the other day. And one another we say hello to the two big dogs who always come bolting to the fence to bark a morning hello, joking that if they don’t show up they’re still inside drinking their coffee and reading their morning paper.
It is not a particularly adventurous activity, at least not in the usual sense of the word. It is not done with a purpose of training for something bigger (although we seem to have added on a few more hills than when we started). It is not result driven, unless you define results by how good a cup of coffee tastes after a ride, and the fact that sometimes there are pastries. But it is ritual, it is habit, it is routine. It is an expected constant in a sea of uncertainty.
It is something to hold on to. It is something for noticing the tiny shifts in the temperature, the sky, the surroundings on a daily basis. It just is.
That feels as essential for fueling creative practice as sitting down to write in a notebook, or playing with a color palette. It is showing up for the process every single day.
It’s not very easy to not show up right now. It’s easier to skip out, to avoid, to tune out. It’s easier to be frustrated at what we can’t do, forgetting what we can. It’s easier to glide through a mass of undefinable days without any sense of purpose or connection, our usual landmarks of time–school, work, social engagements–erased.
But where does that leave us?
“Accept what is” I noted down in my sketchbook a few weeks ago, in between blotches of watercolor marks.
I wrote it not as a revelation but as a reminder. Accept what is, remembering that what is, is inevitably always changing. The current moment shifting into the next, the unexpected always around the next corner. Accept what is, not as an act of giving in and giving up, but as an act of understanding exactly where you are right now. Accept what is so that you have the power to open up to what can be.
This is a reminder for the moment, but it’s always one I need when August rolls around. In this month, I find myself already mourning the end of summer, even though the warm days are still here. But the feelings of anticipation and excitement of what’s to come that are abundant in June are now long gone, and instead, every day feels like slowly watching the calendar tick towards darker hours. In that space, it's easy to not see what is right in front of me.
I am reminded of a quote in Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book
, which always strikes me when I read it:
“Every year, the bright Scandinavian summer nights fade away without anyone’s noticing. One evening in August you have an errand outdoors, and all of a sudden it’s pitch-black. A great warm, dark silence surrounds the hours. It is still summer, but the summer is no longer alive. It has come to a standstill; nothing withers, and fall is not ready to begin.”
We might feel a sense of loss in that sentiment, a sense of sadness. But there is also a beauty in this space. Jansson has written about August elsewhere, defining this month as an essential, and beautiful, in between space: “I love borders. August is the border between summer and autumn; it is the most beautiful month I know. Twilight is the border between day and night, and the shore is the border between sea and land. The border is longing: when both have fallen in love but still haven't said anything. The border is to be on the way. It is the way that is the most important thing.”
Perhaps 2020 is a bit of a border. The in between space between what was and what is to come, the uncomfortable but necessary place of change. A space of learning, of understanding, potentially of revelation. But we can only exist in that space if we accept what is.
That’s a lot like creative practice. We resist because we want to stick with what’s comfortable, and it’s easier to skip out, to distract ourselves, to say “I’ll do it tomorrow,” than do the work of answering our own hard questions.
If we accept what is, then we know that really what we have is today.
There is no sense of mourning what was before, or what potentially is to come, there is only use in being here, right now. Working with what we have, where we are.
Slow down this month. Build your own ritual and routine that reminds you of where you are and how you feel, not on a big scale, but on a small scale.
Because if we don’t sit in this moment of August, this moment between summer and fall, this moment of heat and dry grass and endings before beginnings, it will rush by in yet again a mass of undefinable days. If nothing else, remember that in this still moment, there are meteors to be watched
, the potential spark of curiosity ignited by the night sky.
Make small marks, make big marks, or make no marks at all. Write, or don't write. Engage in whatever creative act keeps you present, but above all, slow down
. We can easily pour all of our energy into what isn’t, what wasn’t, what could have been, what will never be. But we need that energy for something else—we need that energy for our creative thinking.
It requires creative thinking to navigate the waters of a pandemic.
It requires creative thinking to navigate what remote learning looks like.
It requires creative thinking to keep making dinner day in and day out.
It requires creative thinking to uproot systems of oppression.
It requires creative thinking to envision a future that doesn’t look like our present moment and to start building it.
It requires creative thinking to show up awake and aware every single day.
Accept what is, and restore your energy. That is how we step towards what might be.
ps: I did a summer shop update and including a few things below so you can see them. You can also support my work on Patreon.