Monday, February 7, 2011

Making time for creativity

February is a tough month for me. It's around this time every year that I am done with winter. Don't get me wrong -- there's a lot that I truly love about the snowy season, such as:

: walks in the woods

: snowmen and snowballs

: warming up by the woodstove

: baking with the kids

But with yin, there is a yang, and the list of what I'm tired of is growing: rationing wood, rationing hay, shovelling snow, thawing frozen barn pipes & water buckets, frozen duck poo (don't ask), treacherous driving, 14 hours of darkness, and so on.

While I usually have some pretty serious cabin fever by now, this year I'm trying my hand at enjoying the downtime and doing creative activities that I might not otherwise make time to do. It feels like a guilty pleasure, like there are always more "important" things that I "should" be doing -- you know, things like vacuuming or laundry or taxes. But life is more than a "to do" list, and I've learned that I need to include creativity in my everyday.

It's not always easy. I am a very "goal" fixated person, always busying myself with the outcome. You know Ralph Waldo Emerson's saying, "Life is a journey, not the destination"? Well, my tendency is to focus on the destination, which often stops me even starting on the journey.

But when I nurture my creative spirit, make time and space to create something by hand, I am able to tap into such an immense sense of peace and satisfaction. The usual triggers are still there -- is this "worthwhile" or "should" I be doing something else -- and that nasty inner critic that haunts my writing life shouts just as loudly when I'm holding a needle instead of a pen. But I'm learning to ignore that voice. And besides, creating is all about the journey.

Take knitting: knit one, purl one creates a rhythmic dance for my fingers that only exists for as long as the needles are moving. When I start the dance, I may not see how the pattern will play out, how this ball of wool will transform into a hat or mitten, but each row takes me one step closer to the finish. As the pattern changes and a new shape takes form, I experience a childlike sense of bliss and wonder.

Take the (recent) time I knit my first sock. Even though the pattern was labelled "easy," I admit to being a bit anxious. Knitting patterns always remind me of math, and math scares me. What's more, I'm a perfectionist, I frustrate easily and I don't do "failure" well. But quoting Emerson (again), I believe to live a full life one should "Always do what you are afraid to do." And you don't learn much by watching from the sidelines, do you?

The first part of the sock pattern was easy. Using four double-pointed needles, I began knitting in the round.

Around and around I went, my confidence growing with each row. Then it came time to make the heel flap. First, you shift some of the stitches off one needle onto the others, so you're only working with a set number of stitches on one needle. I admit to feeling a bit lost at this point -- I wanted to know, why was I doing this and am I doing this "right" -- but then I said to myself, trust in the pattern.

Then it came time to shape the heel. The pattern said, "Slip one, knit 10, decrease one, TURN". What do you mean, turn? I'm only halfway through the row? I was about to call it quits at this point but then I said, just try it. Trust in the pattern. And in YouTube.

I knit one row, and then another, and another, and I could see the pattern changing. Then there it was -- the heel cup, the feature that makes a sock, a sock, and not just a tube.

After that, the rest was shockingly easy, even thought I'd never picked up stitches or shaped an instep.

So I knit a simple sock -- big deal, right? Yes, actually.

The destination might just be a sock, but on my way I had an amazing journey: I shushed my anxiety, trusted in my abilities, risked making a mistake and gained confidence and experience for the next challenge. Good life lessons, I'd say, gained from something as simple as some knitting needles and yarn. And to think that I struggle with making room for creativity in my life.

So the next time you tell yourself you don't have time for your creative muse, whether it manifests in knitting or painting, singing or basket weaving, baking or gardening, song writing or wood carving, I invite you to reconsider; allow yourself the room to play and open yourself to all the many benefits of a creative life.

To quote Ralph one last time: "There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination."

So how do you -- or might you -- nourish your creative spirit?


Erin said...

You said it perfectly! Just in September I told my friend, I'll never be able to do socks.... then in October I just thought "why not?" The worst that will happen is that it will look horrible and "so what"?! By Christmas i'm furiously knitting cables, colors, LOL! Look at winter as a season that was designed for reflection and preparing and renewing for Spring, perfect for knitting, crafting, cooking or reading. Easier said than done, but I'm learning to love the journey instead of the destination right along with you! said...

Thanks for sharing this, Erin. And BTW -- your knitting successes helped me get over my hesitations and just try it, so thank you!

twigandtoadstool said...

What beautiful socks! Socks are actually the next thing on my list that I want to's so good for our souls to take a creative leap! This cardigan I'm working on has opened me up creatively and I'm just SO enjoying knitting as mama meditation time!
Thanks for joining in our Mama love Monday!
xo maureen said...

Thanks for visiting, Maureen! Knitting as "mama meditation time" -- love it! I look forward to the next Mama love Monday :)

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