Friday, October 17, 2014

life near the epicenter

Today is the 25 year anniversary of the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake that was centered near Santa Cruz where I was living back in 1989. It's an event that was a major turning point in my life, and this week as the anniversary was approaching, I felt the need to write about it again. It's on site called Medium, and you can check it out here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

turn it off

I grew up with public radio, and nothing soothes me like a calm and uninflected public radio voice. When I moved from Santa Cruz to the Bay Area, one of the perks in my mind was access to KQED, which is talk 24 hours a day, my favorite. Early on, I developed a studio habit of always having the radio on, always listening.

After 9/11 happened and the wars that went with it, I started recognizing that having tragedy pour into my ears all day was visibly eroding my mental health and ability to concentrate while I worked. For the first time, I started listening to music stations in my studio instead of talk all day. Then I discovered podcasts.

I'm addicted to podcasts, especially story telling and interview ones. Don't worry, fellow junkies, I'll list all my favorites below in the comment section, and I expect you to do the same. I will download 6 or 7 hours of podcasts to listen to while I work. Nothing soothes me like the opening music of my favorite podcasts.

But I've been noticing something about listening to podcasts all day while I work. My brain is constantly tuned in to listening, and when I'm tuned into listening, I can't do much of any other kind of thinking, like creative thinking, which is a problem. Then, a flood of thinking starts happening at inconvenient times, like when I'm trying to fall asleep or at my other favorite time, at 3 in the morning. I've noticed this problem while I'm gardening as well, and I stopped putting in earbuds while I garden over a year ago.

So I did something crazy last week, which was to turn off all my podcasts while I work. Also, since this is a cold-turkey kind of thing, all music too. Why music? Because even music tends to sweep me away, and I want to train myself to be present again. Complete and meditative silence in the studio while I am working.

I was afraid I would be bored somehow, but I wasn't. And isn't it a weird thing to be afraid of boredom anyway? Our whole culture is afraid of being bored. No, I wasn't bored and after I got over the initial discomfort of not feeding my podcast addiction, I liked the silence, didn't need the voices. And I was able to concentrate on problem solving some business-related things, and even come up with creative ideas as I was moving along. I've actually had to start keeping a notebook at hand to write down all the little things I was thinking about.

I think those of us who have a studio practice are prone to constant radio or podcast listening, even if we use it as a "background" thing. We generally work alone, so having that voice presence can make us feel comforted. I'm pretty convinced that for me, having an auditory distraction always going on is undermining my creative thinking, and I've been doing it for years. What do you think? Do you listen to anything while you work, or even watch things? Let me know if you think it affects you creatively.

Monday, October 06, 2014

okay with okay

It's not a secret that I am prone to anxiety. This is how my anxiety works, and maybe yours too: 
  • Take something that is causing me discomfort or uneasiness, like slow sales or the California drought. 
  • Use that shred of doubt or uncertainty and spin out a scenario, usually a worst-case scenario, into the future. 
  • Spend time thinking about how that is going to feel and what is going to happen. I'm going to lose my business and all my friends and colleagues will pity me; I'll witness the desertification of California and be one of millions of evacuees that are forced to leave the state due to lack of water. 
  • Take those feelings of fear, dread, and panic, stuff them right into my chest, and bring them back to the present moment. 

All of you fellow anxiety sufferers know precisely what I'm talking about. And I know exactly what I'm supposed to do: stay in the present moment at all times, because the present moment is all we have. When you find yourself living in some dark corner of the future, very gently and without judgement lead yourself back to the present moment. Over and over again, that is what one does to overcome the pulsation of anxiety.

I've been getting a little better at this, here and there. My trick is to just say to myself, "what if it's just going to be okay?" Like, all of this worry energy is just a waste of time. Things are probably not going to be horrible, they are definitely not going to be perfect, they are just going to be normal, totally acceptable, and okay. I mean, obviously we are doomed, but things are okay right now in this moment.

I was having a instance last week while I was installing my paper butterfly sculpture into the window of a store, and it was taking me about 4 times longer than I thought it would. It didn't really matter because the opening wasn't until the next day, but my natural reaction when things don't go as planned is to start the anxiety drum. This can make me a really annoying person to the people who love me best, by the way.

I was stringing each butterfly, one by one onto this fishing line, but my mind was somewhere else, working out a play-by-play of a future disaster regarding the balance in my bank account, because I obviously don't know how to manage time or paper installations. All of the sudden I noticed that I really loved the process of stringing each butterfly. It was labor-intensive, but I was enjoying it. I liked stepping back after every few minutes and seeing how the thing was shaping up. It gave me a moment of freedom where I was able to say to myself, "what if it's just going to be okay?" I'm okay right now,  I'm doing something totally enjoyable that will bring others delight, I'm not hungry or thirsty, I'm able to just stand here and do this thing. At some point I'm gonna die and it will all be over, but for now I'm finding the pleasure in living, and it's okay.

The second part of this exercise is being okay with things being okay. Anxiety sufferers are always waiting for the other shoe to drop so it can be difficult to be okay with okay, because it's not comfortable. We'd rather be chasing thoughts down a rabbit hole because at least that gives us a sense of doing something, of being in control. Being in the moment challenges us to let go, and anxiety types hate that shit. If we let go, who will keep the world spinning?

Little by little, every day, I'm working at being okay with okay.