Creative Living: 8 Ways to Stay Disciplined

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If you follow this blog or take the time to look through it, you might notice there hasn’t been a whole lot of consistency. I know, I know. I beat myself up about it ALL THE TIME. I tell myself things like:

  • “If you really loved it, you’d just do it. It would be a habit.
  • “Maybe you should change your idea of your career path.”
  • “No one really cares what you have to say. No one reads your shit.”
  • “You’re not good anyway.”
  • “How can you call yourself a writer? What have your written lately?”

I’m sure some of you could contribute to this list and it could go on forever. But you know what that does? It makes being consistent even worse. How do I expect myself to get back on the horse after I’ve kicked myself into believing I can’t do it? We have to quit our inner pessimist, our over-critical, self-doubting voice. It doesn’t foster ANY sort of motivation at all. WE DON’T NEED IT!

DISCIPLINE in order to create more consistently is something I’ve been focused heavily on bettering about myself over the last three years. Sounds pretty logical, right? If you want to be good at anything, you must practice. You must give time to it consistently. So why is it so hard sometimes?

Because existence is hard sometimes? I don’t know, but here are 8 ways I’ve been using to stay disciplined in my creative pursuits

1. Find a Community

SUPPORT. We need it in our day-to-day life so of course we also need it for our passions and for productivity. It gives me a sense of purpose and a sense of accountability even if it’s just casual and no one actually is keeping tabs on me. For example, I downloaded Meet up, a really cool app that has a huge variety of groups that “meet up” to discuss or do whatever it is you’re interested in. I found a writing group that gets together and works on their stuff. 40 minutes on 10 minutes off for a few hours. I went a few times and it was enough to get the ball rolling for me.

I heard wind that there were free online courses you could take through the library system. I found one on fiction writing and enrolled. We had homework assignments and a professor that gave us feedback. It kept me accountable and was actually how I wrote a short story.

I found a really neat group to join called Drunk Writers, where we get together one night once a month to write to prompts on different topics. You have the option to bring your own things and work on them instead of writing to the prompts, but it’s always good to have a little exercise outside of your typical routine and stretch your mind in ways you’re not accustomed to. It’s like cross-training. I’ve started the group where I am now, too, to build that sense of community and also for the practice.

Another really awesome group of creatives I was introduced to is called Creative Mornings. They have them all over the world! They invite a speaker to come in and to speak on a topic each month. Before that though, creatives get one minute to pitch their ideas or their businesses. Attending these meetings is inspiring and eye-opening.

Last but not least, find yourself a creative partner. I’ve had creative supports come and go and they’ve been wonderful why there were there. I’m very lucky to have someone who I can brainstorm with, run ideas past, look to for some building-up when I’m telling myself all those things above, and that inspires me and collaborates with me. So very grateful for her.

Speaking of inspiring and eye-opening…

2. Make Time for Consumption

Like all things in life, there are ebbs and flows. You’re not always going to be inspired. AND THAT’S OK. When you are ebbing, give yourself permission to read, to attend a gallery and ruminate on photography or art, to go see a movie, or watch netflix or youtube, to listen to music– whatever it is that tickles your fancy and that awakens your soul.

I write poetry and most of my poetry is awful. Writing poetry is hard and it takes A LOT out of me. After writing what I deem to be a (semi) decent poem, I’m spent. It takes a lot of energy. To recharge, I find myself revisiting my favorite poet (Andrea Gibson) and exploring more to expand my mind, to remind myself of all the millions of ways one can express themself.

I also try to attend cultural events about issues I care about, like discussions on literature or social justice. I attend open mics even if I’m not feeling like performing, or exhibitions of any kind. These things help me reset in a way. They help remind me of my place, my own voice, my own experiences– they serve just as much as an inspiration as they do a wonderful mirror.

3. Have Specific Goals, Make a Schedule and Stick to It

This may seem obvious, but it’s definitely easy to get in the mindset of “oh I’m living creatively…so I’ll just create when the winds of inspiration sweep me off my feet.” or “Oh yeah, I have time this week. I’ll work on that then.”  Nope. Definitely doesn’t work like that. Creation takes WORK, and after you have created something, that hard work becomes part of the joy you get from it. In order to do that work it takes making a schedule and putting down on a specific tasks to work on and sticking to it.

When creating my chapbook, I started off with scheduling tasks like “Work on Chapbook” for an hour between my jobs. When I sat down to work on it, can you guess what happened? No, I didn’t make any progress. I spent the time floundering about all the poems that needed to be written and all the revisions I would need to make. I spent the whole hour I had overwhelmed with too vague of a task. Specificity is KEY. I began assigning myself specific poems, and would write to that even if it hurt, even if I felt like it sucked. A few times these poems turned out to be completely different poems for completely different projects but overtime I was taking small steps to the completion of my larger task.

I try to always remind myself to be a squirrel. Must take just one nut at a time. 

4. Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

Building a habit, even around something you’re passionate about, isn’t easy. Set up a FEASIBLE schedule (key word here), try to stick to it, and give yourself a break. Literally and figuratively. Some days you’re going to be tired and you’re not going to want to do it– and some days you need to push through that. But other days, you need to listen to yourself and give yourself some rest. It has taken a lot of time for me to start being more kind to myself. But gosh, now that I give myself permission to fail (most of the time), time to rest, time to suck, I’m so much happier creating things.

I recently read “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert (if you haven’t read it, go do it right now), and that’s one of her biggest sticking points. Creating should be FUN! If it’s miserable for you in part because you’re putting some much pressure on it (on yourself, your expectations of what it could become, of what people might think) you’re doing it wrong. Take a deep breathe. Relax. Think of it as a game, find your inner child, and play. And remember. This is for you.

Which leads to my next piece of advice…

BUT if you want to hear, stay tuned to my Youtube channel for the remaining 4 Ways to Stay Disciplined! 

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6ekT0NqTzO1xpG5H1SwDww

 

The Reality Behind Travel

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Behind all the “grammable” moments, the gorgeous album of photos uploaded to Facebook, the amazing snaps and instastories blasted out for the world to see, the reality of traveling is a sobering one.

First, let me start by stating that I recognize how lucky I am to have earned opportunities to travel and to live abroad in different countries. I know a lot of people look at that with a mixture of incredulity, awe, and probably a bit of envy. A lot of people want me to share photos and videos so they can live vicariously through me. I get that. I do that. However, it’s a slippery slope when you’re not in the right frame of mind.

Even as I’m here, settling into a bustling, beautiful city in Colombia, I see my friends and my family and people I knew at some point having meals together, going to parks, playing games, getting engaged, married, having babies… all together. I feel envious. I feel sad. And I feel utterly alone.

From an objective standpoint, I know I’m not alone. I also understand that these 2D experiences I’m seeing are teeming with loads of challenging nuances that I cannot detect.  And currently, I’m acutely aware that I’m in the first stages of culture shock.

I’ve settled in to a beautiful house with nice people and two cats. I have a space to call my own, a place to store my food, a neighborhood to frequent. I have a launching pad from which I can go discover this city, this country, and this part of the world. It is wonderful relief.

With that relief, the ability to relax, a number of things fade: my survival instincts, the excitement of walking around a new city, re-navigating a language I love, discovering the subtleties of this culture, learning of things to try, places to see, etc. As this “honeymoon” stage melts away, room develops for homesickness, exhaustion, frustration, feelings of isolation and being stuck, even scared, and sadness.

I wouldn’t change this decision if I had to make it 50 more times. But like all things in life, there are ups and downs. Sometimes just going to the store is the hardest thing in the world. Sometimes you just need to curl up in a blanket with some mac and cheese and watch your favorite show. Sometimes things are going to suck, even if you’re in paradise.

So I guess, what I’m trying to communicate is that, while I post pretty photos and share nice stories about my experience, keep in mind that it’s not all butterflies and rainbows. Sure, revel in those moments with me, but please don’t lose sight of the magic of your own experience while you do. I’m going to remind myself of the same thing, especially in tougher moments like these.

You see the picture at the top of this page? My feet resting on a window sill that overlooks a gorgeous patio, lush with tropicalish flowers, blue skies in the background, reeking of tranquility. Well, shortly before taking that, as I ambled my gawky way into the hammock, I fell straight backwards, smashed my head into the bed so hard one of the wooden slats went crashing to the floor, scaring the cat so bad that it flew from its resting spot on my suitcase with her nails out, tearing up the fabric as she dashed away.

All rainbows and butterflies and shit, right?

Not exactly.

And good thing!

Teaching English in Spain: 5 Ways I’ve Become a Better Human

As my second year as an English teacher in Spain winds down, I wanted to take some time to reflect on all the good things that have come of this experience. While a year and eight months seems like nothing in comparison to the amount of time I spent in college, or in K-12,  I have to say it has been the most fruitful and condensed personal growth I have experienced. For the newbies at this and the veterans alike, perhaps you’ll find some truth in the following 5 five ways I’ve become a better human.

1. Patience

I’ve always said the phrase in jest, “patience is a virtue” right after I had already lost patience and consequently lost the virtuous fight. This experience has taught me what that phrase really means on three levels: patience with others, patience with life, and patience with myself. This is by far the most important way I’ve become a better human.

Patience with others: I’ve never considered myself an impatience person, per say.  In fact with strangers, customers, and acquaintances I’ve always been extraordinarily patient. Then I started trying to communicate with people from a different culture in a foreign language. I suppose I learned much of the patience I’ve acquired through compassion. While I tried to function in my new environment, I appreciate immensely those who allow me to speak, give me time to sort my thoughts and finish my words before speaking for me or switching to English. I carry that with me everyday, and now in my interactions with native speakers in my own language, as well. As a result, I’ve become a better listener and a much better conversationalist. Also, my personal relationships have improved and communication has become much more positive. Speaking with family over skype can be highly frustrating with delays and cut-outs, but impatience isn’t going to solve that, in fact it’s just going to increase your risk of a heart attack.

Patience with life: What do I mean by this? Spanish bureaucracy. I’ve been forced to take a deep breath through every single process or proceeding within society. From walking in the streets with a bunch of Spaniards who zig-zag their way to their destination at a Sunday drive’s pace, to being the only person in the Foreign Consulate and waiting for 45 minutes because… I’m still baffled as to why. I’ve learned to take a deep breath and let it go. You get used to it. Also, I think we all get to the point in life where we have something ahead of us and we just can’t wait for it to arrive and we rush through the days for it to get there– we’re caught in this existential longing. It’s sort of like a dog begging at the table for food… you know it’s coming and you’re salivating for it, with a whine bubbling up in your chest. But we’re not dogs, so we shouldn’t act like them (some of us, at least).  You’ve got to live in the moment. You’ve got to live mindfully. Fill your days with patience. That’s the only way the future will unfold in the most satisfying of ways.

Patience with myself:  I’m used to being good at things. I know that sounds pretentious, but I’m a fast learner in many areas, especially athletics and language. However, Spanish has always been this love/hate relationship. I’m absolutely enthralled with it and always have been, but it’s not easy for me. Especially the pronunciation. With the thousands of miscommunications, the comparisons I make with myself and others, and despite the encouragement I receive, I’m very, very hard on myself. Way too hard on myself. I’ve forced myself to take a step back and put things in perspective. I’m doing pretty damn good and I’m sure you are too! And what’s the goal of communication at the end of the day: be understood. Of course it’s going to take years to communicate with the same nuance and intelligence you do in your native language. So breathe.  Be patient.

2. Humility

Living abroad has a way of humbling you. As you leave your bubble, your community, you leave behind everything people know of you. You are a blank slate. Undefined. This situation can be very frustrating if you don’t know who you are or don’t know how to simply just be with all your imperfections. Part of this process involves simultaneously detaching from myself slightly, going with the flow, and practicing compassion, as well. I don’t take it to heart when people don’t get me. Between the misconceptions, miscommunications, and preconceptions about me and my culture it’s important not to let your ego or pride flare up, especially when you’re up in front of a classroom with all those little eyes staring at you. Humility–It’s a beautiful thing.

3. Consistent Courage

Speaking of little eyes staring at you, being a teacher takes courage. I’ve never been someone who is timid, but it certainly takes guts to get up in front of people, whether they’re kids or adults, and give a presentation on what you know…and in many cases, what you’ve just (re)learned. In Spain I’m your stereotypical American girl: blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin. A typical “guiri” as they say here. Everywhere I go people immediately peg me as a foreigner. It’s obvious, and at first, it made me a bit shy, and slightly defensive. This made the already nerve-wracking first few experiences of going into the bank or post office even more of a call for courage. Day in and day out, my courage is tested and I have to say I’ve become even more bold than I was before.

4. Coping with Stress

Living abroad, learning a new profession on the fly, and a language by trial and error has tested my coping mechanisms. They even broke at some points. Learning a new profession can be stressful. Now double that with doing this in a foreign country. Learning to cope with stress and exhaustion is a must. How I did it? Sleep. Breathing. Patience. Positivity. Forgiveness. Laughter. You’ve got to breathe. Take a time out for yourself. Also, take time to be with people. Community is so, so important. Be patient with yourself and your coworkers. You’ve got to forgive yourself for mistakes, and of course, others, as well. Don’t think of stress as a negative thing. The best thing you can do is make all of these challenges into a fun game. I highly recommend taking a moment to learn How to Make Stress Your Friend.  Finally, you’ve got to laugh it all off. This is life and it’s not so dang serious.

5. Responsibility

Perhaps many of you had learned this invaluable characteristic in college, or perhaps you’re like me, and it has been a slow and steady progression to adulthood: aka being responsible. Every shade of responsibility is necessary as a teacher living abroad alone. You are forced to grow up, and it’s painful sometimes, but I couldn’t be more grateful to finally have my life together.

Thanks for reading! 

Stay tuned for the next 5 ways I’ve become a better human as an English Teacher in Spain.