Apr 302014

Everyone I talk to about doing artistic work raises the topic of needing more time in the day. “I’m so busy–how can I squeeze in my creative pursuits?” Here are some quick tips that may help.

1. Give Up Something

Choose a specific activity that you will give up to make time for your creative work. Maybe you don’t need to watch all 162 games of your favorite baseball team. Maybe you can give up that committee you’ve been volunteering on for nineteen years. It’s not that these are bad things, but sometimes you need to say no to other activities to make room for your creative work.

What you are telling yourself: “I am doing my work. My work matters as much as everything else in my busy life.”

2. Handle Distractions

The phone ringing, the kids doing kid stuff, noise from outside, your sore left knee. The dirty dishes and the dirty laundry and the plant by the window that needs watering. And there’s always something to look at on the Web. Immersing yourself in creative work will require you to block out the world for a while.

Then there are the distractions from within. “My boss was such a pain today.” “Maybe I’m no good at this writing thing.” Whatever thoughts arise that are not contributing to your work, let them float away down the stream of consciousness.

For most people, the earlier in the day you start your creative work, the fewer the distractions. If getting started early is available to you, give it a try.

What you are telling yourself: “It’s hard to do my work with such a busy life, but I am equal to these distractions.”

3. Create Every Day

Pick a time and place where you’ll work every day. Tell the other people in your house, “I’m writing each morning before I get ready for work.” Hang up a sign to remind you and others of your plan.

If you want to create in a fulfilling way, you need to put in the time and attention. There are no shortcuts. Getting to your work every day will help you move from dabbling to creating.

You may need a transition period if all you can manage are a few minutes per day. Even a little time and space each day is a good start. If you can begin to spend a little more thought and effort on creating, then you’re heading in the right direction.

What you are telling yourself: “My artistic work demands a great deal of time and brain power. So I will show up to work every day.”

4. Plan A Project

Let’s say you show up at your chosen time and place to do some writing, You will also need a concrete idea of what you will write. You will need a form and a goal. Think in terms of describing your current project to others. “I’m writing a short story, a dark suspense thing.” “I’m writing an article about the need for improvements to the parks and playgrounds in the south half of town.” “I’m working on the second draft of my novel.”

This goes for other types of work too. A musician practices honestly when she can state her aim for that session with her instrument. An artist works with focus when he knows what he is painting.

Treat “to create” as a transitive verb, always needing an object. What specifically are you working on?

What you are telling yourself: “I know what I am working on. I’m not just creating–I’m creating something.”

Moving On

When you put tips like these to use, you are sending a message to yourself and others that your work matters. Most of us have time in our hectic lives to get our creating done. See if you can use a few of these ideas to get more momentum behind your artistic work.

Sometimes life is just too busy, and there truly is no time to give to your creating. If that is your situation, be patient, and look for opportunities to simplify other parts of your life so you can get to your creative endeavors in the future.

Oct 022013

So you want to become a writer?

Yeah. I think I’d like that.

What writing have you done?

Not much, just some stuff that isn’t too serious.

Are you writing anything now?

Yeah, a few pieces that I have in various stages.

What are those pieces?

I’m not sure. Just some thoughts, some ideas. Like I said, nothing serious.

But writing is serious work, even if it’s not serious content. Can you get a little more definite about what you want to work on?

Hmm, well I guess I’m not very decisive about it. I’m not sure how to get more definite or specific.

I like that word “decisive.” That’s what I’m getting at. You’ll need to decide a lot of things as a writer.

Sure. I’ll need to delete words, choose words, rewrite without getting bogged down in indecision.

Yes. You’ll also need to choose what you are working on. In other words, you need to have a very clear, practical project in mind. For example, which of these sound interesting to you: A memoir, a novel, some short stories, magazine articles, or a non-fiction book?

Hmm. Definitely not a non-fiction book. I’m not interested in a biography or historical study or anything like that.


I was thinking of something more literary. A novel or short story.

What about a memoir or some kind of personal essay?

Maybe, but I’d be tempted to spend time explaining mydself, defending myself. I think writing anything like a memoir would just bring out lots of paranoia.

Makes sense. So you’re thinking something literary?

Yeah, like writing novels.

What kind of novel?

I like sci-fi, but there’s so much out there.

Well sure, but let’s not worry about a marketing angle right now.

(Laughs) OK, but I like the idea of creating worlds that are really strange. I like sci-fi, though I’m not sure if I could pull off something that could get beyond the stupid old robots and space ships thing.

Are there other genres where you create weird worlds?

Sure, fantasy is a big thing with me too, and lots of people like that.

That sounds like more marketing. You’re not going to earn an income from this. At least not at the start. You need to do some writing, pay some dues and so on.

I’m just trying to get to something specific, like you said.

Fair enough.

Fantasy could mix with other stuff. There are lots of urban werewolf things, vampire things, stuff set in present times. I have something like that in mind, something where I take the ordinary world and make something strange and amazing happen.

How about this. Instead of a world, can you make it much, much smaller?

Hmm. sure, like a very small town. When I was a kid we lived in this little town of about two thousand people. Lots of farmers, lots of old worn-down little factory buildings. It was very quiet and pretty boring, but you could get a lot of reading done.

Could you start writing with that, something with that quiet little town?

Maybe. I don’t know where it would go. It’s not a novel.

You can’t think up an entire novel in a few minutes. You can get a starting point, like a little town. Or you could have a very basic plot idea, like the queen of England is actually from another solar system.

Sure, well I could start with the town and see where it leads. I think that makes sense. Use a little town as a seed and see what I can imagine.

Exactly. Just live in it every day. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, live in that fictional place and let your imagination grow it out.

yeah, that sounds good. I’ll try that and see how it goes.

Aug 042013

Creativity coaching is a new kind of work, and many people aren’t sure exactly what it’s all about. Here are a few common questions answered.

What exactly is creativity coaching?

  • it’s me helping you get your work done. We’ll sort out what you want in an artistic life and how to get there.

  • It’s having someone there on your side, which is often hard to find.

  • It’s having two minds working through things rather than you sorting things out by yourself.

  • It’s helping you build up your circle of people who will support and encourage your creativity.

How does it work?

We will talk twice a month on the phone or on Skype, each call lasting forty-five to sixty minutes. In each call we will catch up on current happenings and make a plan for your creative work over the coming days.

Sometimes I will ask clients to send me daily status emails as a concrete log of daily progress. These emails serve as simple status reports, stating “I spent an hour writing this morning,” or, “Got bogged down at work–no painting today.”

Why would I want coaching?

Because deep down you love your creativity and want to live a more fulfilling life.

Who are your clients?

I work with people who are professionals, emerging artists, and hobbyists. I work with musicians, writers, and anyone involved in any kind of artistic pursuit. People at all levels of skill and career can benefit from coaching.

How did you get started in coaching?

In my late teens and early twenties, I attended Bible college and seminary to train for pastoral ministry. I eventually left religion behind, but I still have the training and desire to do caring work.

Several conferences and courses on living a fulfilling artistic life helped me grow as a musician. At one conference I heard a presentation by Eric Maisel, the person who started the area of work known as creativity coaching. I eventually took several training courses with Eric and decided that creativity coaching would be a super way for me to get back into caring work.

At various times in the past I struggled to make music and writing an important part of my life, finding zero support and often feeling rather stupid. Today my aim is to boost the energy, confidence, and resolve of others in similar situations to help them build a fulfilling artistic life.

If you have any questions about coaching or about making a new artistic trail for yourself, don’t hesitate to send me an email. I’m always glad to chat a bit about creativity.

May 132013

Every few days I end up in a conversation with some musicians where the topic is, “Why we all hate marketing and business stuff surrounding our music.” Musicians hate marketing, hate cold-calling DJs, hate negotiating gigs, and hate asking to get paid to play.

In his new book, Making Your Creative Mark, Eric Maisel gives some great reframing or thought-substitution techniques to get through the discouraging stuff. The basic idea is to be attentive to your inner conversations, and eliminate thoughts that do not serve your interests.

Here’s an example:

“I have to call three or four people today to start setting up gigs for this winter.” OK, that’s a good, sensible, useful thing to have in your head.

Then along comes the next thought. “I hate calling people. I wish I didn’t have to do that stupid stuff.” OK, this is where you need some substituting. You hate making business calls, but it’s not useful to think too much about that. What could you substitute?

“I don’t like making biz calls, but it only takes about twenty minutes. Then I can get on with something more interesting. Besides, I haven’t talked to Carol in Colorado for a while, and she’s always great to talk to.”

That substitution will give you a much better chance of actually getting those calls done. Kind of obvious? Yes. But discouragement and procrastination are built on gloomy moods, not following what is obvious and logical. And as Maisel points out, it is often very useful to let go of a thought even though it may be true. You hate doing something, fine if that’s true. But let go of that thought if it doesn’t serve your creativity.

Of course artistic passion means more than simply finding ways to get tedious tasks done. Obsessed, devoted, impetuous, falling madly, lustily, foolishly, hopelessly in love with your creativity. Forget discipline–this isn’t military training. It’s your romance with that instrument, that moment of writing, that dance, applying tools to wood and stone, speaking to the canvas with your brushes.

In the same book, Maisel writes that passion is what separates artists from dabblers. Some people can create casually, occasionally working at something, but usually one must stay passionate and be in the work day after day to create well. The concept of “getting into flow” is often spoken of in terms of immersing into something for several hours. But flow can also be a way of life, where artistic passion is a driving and directing force behind everything you do day upon day.

A runner must have strong mental and emotional focus during a race. But she also trains day after day with that same competitive drive and intensity. The passion to succeed is not a switch she can turn on right before a race and then forget it afterward. Success comes from wanting it and living like she means it. That’s the same kind of passion needed to live a fulfilling artistic life.

This new book from Eric Maisel is one of the best things I’ve seen in a while for the creative personality. He covers the most common difficulties and struggles facing artistic people–your thoughts, confidence, passion, identity, freedom, and relationships. If you’re not on the bandwagon reading every new book that coms along for artists, writers, or musicians, that’s cool. But this is one book I’d recommend to everyone with the desire to create.

Apr 152013

“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” – Thomas Edison

From a young age Thomas Edison had a significant hearing loss. Legend says he took advantage of the impairment to isolate himself from social and educational experiences in pursuit of his experiments and speculations. Perhaps he came across as arrogant or unpleasant if he didn’t socialize much, but it’s obvious that his contributions to technology, science, and commerce have been immeasurable in the past few generations. The light bulb and the gramophone have changed our world’s history, and those are just two examples of Edison’s inventions.

I think of the creative person as having two minds–the inspired mind and the industrious mind.

When time is on your hands and you’re looking for the next project to start, turn on the inspired mind. Take in lots of inputs, take long walks, read, listen to music, wonder and speculate. Cast a wide net, open up, and let your right-brain imagination make unexpected connections. One definition of inspiration is when your brain makes odd connections between things that you and other people wouldn’t usually think to connect. Love is like a playground, a politician is a cat sleeping in the sun, and a hopeless heart needs a box of tools and a trip to the grocery store.

The industrious mind is very different. You’re deep in a project, so you need to put your head down and work. You don’t want your mind wandering around in many meandering trails. The industrious mind needs you to create a little world in your work, and to live deeply in that world. You close the door behind you and work. Emotions about your work are very distracting. Thinking about the whys of yourself, your work, and your little created world will disrupt your progress. The industrious mind relies on steady effort and immersion, closing yourself off from the world to get work done.

Sometimes all you need is inspiration. If you’re writing limericks or cute little poems like Ogden Nash wrote, the sixty-second intuitive burst is more likely your approach. I actually don’t know how much time or effort were required for Nash to complete one of his poems, but he wrote hundreds and hundreds of them so basic math says he must have cranked them out pretty quick.

On the other hand, writing a novel requires the industrious, meticulous approach stacking inspiration upon inspiration. As Walter Mosley points out in his book This Year You Write Your Novel, the complexities and innumerable connections in a good novel require hundreds of days to build. A writer cannot hope to hold an entire novel in her head at one time, let alone create the whole thing in a single, spontaneous bang of creativity.

In The Music Lover’s Handbook by Elie Sigmeister, the work of Schubert and Beethoven are contrasted along these lines. Schubert wrote songs, small pieces of fine music. His work operated on spontaneity and inspiration. Beethoven, on the other hand, created vast stretches of sound in longer forms such as the symphony and the concerto. Beethoven worked over his manuscripts and notebooks time and again. Scholars today study his notebooks to analyze the progress of his works from raw inspiration stepwise to the finished work.

What if Edison had spent more time asking if his work was worthwhile? What if he succumbed to feelings of boredom and discouragement? Part of creative work is being a little selfish, a little aloof, a little arrogant. You’d have to be playing deity to even intend on creating characters, scenes, and plots, let alone entire worlds.

Some people can turn off the speculative thoughts and turn on the industrious mind quite easily, while many others struggle to tame their unruly minds. This is where breath, thought, and meditation exercises can help strengthen your ability to intentionally focus on some things while pushing aside others.

Maybe you are in a place where you need to open up, play, expand, and imagine in order to fuel your inspired mind. If so, then turn off your industrious mind, don’t be too logical and serious. Don’t confine yourself to a little world, whether that rigid compartment is your artistic work, your family, your job, your sense of self, or your discouraged gloominess.

On the other hand, turn off the inspired mind and turn on the industrious when you have a piece of work underway. Enter the little world of that creation, and limit your mind’s wanderings. Less time thinking and feeling, more time creating. Don’t predict or expect, just work and sweat and see what the work brings you.

“Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.” – Thomas Edison

Mar 142013

A dozen is quite the popular number. Donuts, eggs, cans of beer and bottles of wine all come in dozens. When we want to show an impressive number, we use dozens. “She has dozens of friends in Chicago.” “He has published dozens of articles on the subject.”

If you’re feeling really enthusiastic, you can join The Dozenal Society of America, which advocates a worldwide switch from base ten to base twelve. I am skeptical that base ten will be replaced any time soon., but who knows? Base twelve was in use back in ancient Mesopotamia, so it’s not just a new-fangled fad. Check out the song links at the end of this post, and you may be persuaded to join the ways of ancient arithmetic.

Now, to the real point of all this number talk.

The most common cause of unhappiness and frustration among creative personalities is resistance–the inner resistance that keeps a person doubting, worrying, fearing the vulnerability, and dismissing artistic endeavors as less than meaningful. It may clothe itself in procrastination, laziness, lack of focus, low confidence, or squandered talent. Whatever form it takes, but resistance lies behind anything inside a person that keeps him from doing the work.

Dedicate yourself to a dozen hours of creative work each week. It will change your life.

One musician plans her dozen hours a week this way. She practices for an hour every day. That’s seven. Then she spends five hours on emails, searching for gigs, keeping her website and press kit spiffy. Several months later she is performing more, growing her following, and pushing her music to a higher standard.

Another musician feels he is lacking in some foundation skills. He decides to practice ninety minutes a day. That’s ten and a half hours a week. Plus he puts a weekly lesson on top of that, and his dozen hours are set. He’s going to be a much better musician in just a few months.

Walter Mosley states that ninety minutes a day for a year is the minimum for finishing your first novel draft. Imagine a writer starting on this daunting adventure for the first time. Ninety-some minutes a day, a dozen hours a week. In about twelve months she’ll have six hundred hours poured into her draft, and that might make for a pretty solid piece of reading. Dabbling for a few hours every once in a while on a bored Saturday afternoon isn’t the way to good writing. Putting in the sweat and time is the only way she will get her best writing done.

If you have a job, kids, school activities, yard work, and your volleyball league, finding twelve hours might be tough. You’ll need to scale back on some things. The two-hour volleyball session could be replaced with an hour of running. Some of the school activities you volunteer for could go to other parents this year. Maybe TV isn’t always worth the time.

No one can guarantee that your work will find financial success or critical acclaim if you give more time to it. But it is guaranteed that a second-rate effort will never lead to excellence. Think of it this way: No one could promise that an hour a day in the gym will make you an Olympic athlete. But if you want to feel great and be in the best physical condition possible, that hour in the gym seems like an obvious plan. Work hard and you’re more likely to do very good things.

I’ll wrap up here with those promised songs of historical importance. I do have a soft spot for Mesopotamia from my days in ancient Near East studies. I spent the summer of 1992 translating the entire code of Hammurabi for an Akkadian independent study. So of course I have to point out some great music about the land between the rivers:

Feb 182013

Every time a musician says “no” to a gig, he is making his circle of opportunities a little smaller. When he’s feeling tired and wanting some chill time at home on the couch, someone else with more motor will take his spot and keep it.

Every time a pianist says “no” to practice, she’s saying that music is not as important to her as it is for some others. On the days she doesn’t practice, someone else is racing ahead to push the music a little further.

Every time a singer says “no” to fixing a mistake in practice, he’s telling himself the mistakes are OK. He’s made that mistake twenty times in the past, and he’s sung it correctly maybe once or twice. He may need to sing it right fifty or a hundred more times to patiently untrain the mistake.

Every time a novelist says “no” to writing, she is missing the opportunity to make her draft a little better. Other writers out there aren’t skipping as many days, and some of them will make it mainly on their drive and dedication.

Every time an artist says “no” to his most important project in order to dabble in something else, he is robbing the left pocket to fill the right one. Spending energy on a frivolous diversion with no intention to complete it diminishes the soul of his main pieces.

Every time a poet says “no” to working because she is worrying and doubting, she acts unkindly toward herself. Doubting herself means she doesn’t consider herself equal. Worrying denies that working very, very hard is what makes brilliant art. She does well to hold onto the truth: She is equal, and the best thing she can do for her creative heart is to work like she loves it and means it.

When you feel discouraged, lazy, distracted, or worried about your artistic work, bravely say “yes” to your creativity.

Dec 272012

Are you stuck in artistic quicksand, unable to get going with your art, music, acting, or writing,? Perhaps you see yourself in the following picture:

You have conflicting emotions about your work. You procrastinate consistently through sophisticated techniques of diversion and distraction. You spend about ninety minutes this month on your work, but next month you promise yourself that you’ll dive into it every evening and weekend to make up for squandered time. And you keep wondering why you have such frustrating flaws when others seem to be so prolific.

Getting unstuck is no simple job, but there are some common tactics that many find helpful. First, understand that feeling trapped in artistic quicksand is practically a universal experience. Most people find digging deep and creating to be tough stuff, so don’t think you are unusual because you can’t get going. Writing a novel requires you to sweat and struggle far more than writing a business memo or a grocery list. Finishing your painting is much more demanding than helping your third-grader finish his homework. (Well, it’s supposed to be, but some third-graders can be pretty stubborn.)

Sometimes the answer is getting your mind back into practical things. It’s hard to work when you keep asking yourself, “Am I talented? Does my work matter? What if I’m choosing the wrong project? What if people hate it when it’s done?” Better to quiet down the mind and give yourself over to the task at hand. Turn off your super-busy thoughts, and pick up the paint brush, pen, script, or score. Trust yourself and submerge yourself in your work.

On the other hand, you might feel overwhelmed by the myriad little steps that lie ahead. You’re chugging along on your novel, and you keep thinking, “I’ve still got tens of thousands of words to write. I’ve been working on this for a year and a half, and my inspired feelings left me a long time ago. It’s enough to make Sisyphus pity me!”

The bored, uninspired times are to be expected, even when you have endless energy and an optimistic attitude. When you feel a deep doubt inside, it may be a good time to consider what you value most. Usually the answer is something like, “I keep forgetting how much I love my work. I’ve been so busy worrying that I’ve lost sight of my artistic heart. I have to remember that if I can work for ten hours a week, I’ll have this project done in maybe twelve to eighteen months.” If your inspired mind can cheer on your industrious, methodical side, then you have a good chance of getting through the dull days.

You might try investing in some non-creating time for renewal and strength. Like a tennis player who works out in the gym to improve her game on the court, you may benefit from some supporting activities. Here are some suggestions.

  • Meditation and attention exercises to strengthen your mental focus
  • Healthy diet and physical exercise to increase your stamina
  • Attending workshops, reading books, and relying on the expertise of others to gain business savvy
  • Relaxation and stress-reduction techniques to manage anxiety
  • Taking long walks to refresh your mind and feed your imagination
  • Investing a little extra time into planning and scheduling to keep your projects on track
  • Loving yourself, being your own number-one fan and supporter

Artistic quicksand is no joke. When you’re stuck, it’s miserable. But almost all of us feel the doubts and worries that you feel. And there are practical things that might help you in your particular little patch of quicksand now. Push yourself, ask a friend to keep you accountable, find a supportive group of peers, or get a creativity coach. The path leading into the quicksand is well worn, but the path out is probably a lot closer than you think.

Oct 212012

Writing workshops. Writers’ groups. Online courses. Masters of Fine Arts programs. Writing books full of writing exercises. Writing coaches and creativity coaches. Blogs. Dictionaries, thesauruses, and grammar books..

With all these great resources available, you’d think that our society would be over the top with prolific and enthusiastic novelists. So why is it that very few people who want to write a novel can’t get it done?

I recently read a great little book by Walter Mosley called This Year You Write Your Novel. Mosley is a successful novelist with many books to his credit. And he put everything he knows about writing novels into this useful little book. You should give it a read if you’ve ever had a notion for writing a novel.

Day By Day

The title is kind of bossy, right? This year you get the job done, no messing around. Getting started is tough, and finishing is tough. But if you have an idea and a willingness to write, you better just get started.
Stop thinking about writing and start writing.

Mosley emphasizes the importance of showing up and staying at your writing every day. There are no shortcuts, and no one is going to hand something to you. If you want to produce something good, you need to spend the time and brain power on the task. Mosley says that ninety minutes a day is the minimum amount required, and I wouldn’t argue with that.

Writing every day isn’t just about dedication. According to Mosley, your subconscious mind needs continuity to do its best creating. When you keep heading back to those characters, that scene, that plot and that other subplot, your imagination can stir around the story without breaking momentum. It’s like a musician rehearsing–you don’t practice for a week, and you’ve got some ground to make up.

Step By Step

Mosley talks through the practical steps of writing. Get started, don’t stop to revise and edit until the entire draft is done. Then revise and revise and on and on. You’re done when you keep trying to make it better, but you make it worse instead. That’s when you know it’s as far as it’s going to go.

The book also explains basic techniques of novel writing. Metaphor, simile, dialog, scenery, plot, point-of-view, showing rather than telling, etc. If you’re not familiar with these things, this book is a good place to start.

Again, it’s like a musician practicing her techniques. As you use the tools and methods of novel-writing, you’ll get better at them. There are no writing exercises in Mosley’s book. He says that writing the real stuff is the best practice you can get.

What Happens Next

Mosley finishes the book with an overview of the publishing business. He describes the roles of agents and publishers, and how a book deal is made. Again, the process is explained, but you’ll have to try it and fail at it in order to eventually get better at it.

There’s no certainty of success here. No one can hand you a step-by-step guide to getting your first novel published. Some writers are lucky and others are not. Putting in your best effort for one year will get you a solid draft, and that’s as far as Mosley’s book promises to take you.

A book about writing should be brief and to the point. You have an itch to write, then get going. Understand the tools and techniques of the trade, and then start showing up for work every day. If that sounds good to you, take a little time to read Mosley’s book. Then off you go.

See the book at Amazon

Oct 142012

May was two weeks into her summer job and one full year into her new life of Christian faith, and she felt emptied out by both. Her boss Joanna sat her down after lunch for a little lecture.

“I know you’re new here and you’re a fairly new believer, so I’m just trying to help you adjust. We don’t wear earrings here at the retreat center, but I keep seeing you with earrings on. I know people have different views on these things, but we have to keep one standard so everyone feels comfortable and in harmony. And this shirt you’re wearing today, the sleeves are too short. If you’re going to wear a short-sleeve shirt, the sleeve needs to cover most of your upper arm. Things like this will become second-nature after you’ve been here a while. Is that OK?”

“Yes, I got it,” May said, tired and angry. Earrings and sleeves don’t matter, she thought, so why all these stupid rules? But she said no more and got up to leave.

“Let me know if you have any questions. I’ll see you later.”

May was between her second and third years of college, where she had fallen in with one of the campus Christian fellowship groups. The camaraderie and fun she had with the Christian crowd helped her survive the doubts and loneliness of campus life. Sarah, one of her friends from the Christian crew, told her about the retreat center when she mentioned looking for a summer job.

“It’s run by some independent Christian people, kind of a Bible-based approach to a retreat center. And they run some summer-camp programs for kids. I was an apprentice there for a year before I came back to college last semester.”

“You liked it there?”

“They really push you to grow in your faith. It’s a place for spiritual growth and accountability. I think it would be good for you too.”

May was distracted as she resumed mopping the dining hall floor. She had read through the employee handbook that came in the mail a few days before she started the job. There was nothing about earrings or short sleeves. Is this what Sarah meant when she said the job would be good for her, some kind of army-style attitude adjustment?

She missed her classes at college. The other art students were very talented and a little wild. Well, she didn’t know how wild they really were. She got along great with the other students in class, but they seemed kind of careless and disorganized. They would often stumble into class looking like they had woken up just minutes before, mismatched socks, wrinkled clothes, hair a mess. She assumed some of them were hung over a lot of the time, though she had no proof of this.

There was a small circle of art student girls that were friendly to her. They invited her a few times for a midnight run to the donut shop, but she never accepted. She needed her sleep to make it to all her classes during the day and the fellowship meetings most evenings. Back in April a couple of those girls had invited her to someone’s house in the country for a party all weekend. They said there would be some fun people, and they’d be way out in the middle of the woods where no one could bother them. May felt kind of scared of that invitation. What kind of party did you have in the middle of nowhere? Maybe it was OK, but she couldn’t just ask what they would do at this party. That would look pretty dumb. She’d be trapped out there and couldn’t get away if she wanted to. Her Christian friends would notice that she wasn’t at her usual Sunday morning worship service, and she definitely couldn’t tell them she went to some wild woodsy party with a bunch of art student girls for the weekend.

The weird thing about those girls was, they did awesome work. One of them did such striking, almost disturbing sculptures. A couple months ago she did a stone owl that made May gasp when she first saw its menacing face. It really looked like it was turning its head to look at her. Another one was great with ceramics and pottery. May fell in love with a particular piece of hers, a stout green coffee mug standing on little legs doing a dance. May couldn’t understand how the students who seemed the most undisciplined, the up-all-night and party-in-the-woodds girls, how did they accomplish so much good work?

During her afternoon break she walked out to a peaceful, isolated spot among some trees behind the horse barn. She flopped down on the ground and leaned back against a wide, old tree to get her brain straightened out. Why did she let Joanna push her around? Why didn’t she argue back that there weren’t any rules about earrings and short sleeves?

At school she had tried to stay disciplined and accountable like her Christian friends always talked about. They would tell stories at Bible study about John Wesley and other old church people who were so spiritual and holy by living a methodical life in every way. Every minute was planned, every cent was spent intentionally, every word and thought guided by the desire to be holy and pleasing to God. But what the heck did that have to do with earrings? If she wanted people to boss her around all day, she’d join the stupid army.

She sighed loudly as a horse whinnied in the barn. A few weeks back her favorite art professor had told her that she should throw herself into her work, because she had untapped potential. Something she had read about Leonardo came to mind. Something about his mind being totally enslaved by a drawing or a tiny bit of a painting. He would just think and look all day without doing anything. Then he would finally make a few strokes with his pen or brush once it was absolutely perfect in his mind. That was probably what the professor was talking about, but how do you get there? Her mind was always bouncing around, thinking about where she needed to go later or about what happened yesterday. She was especially bad about thinking over conversations, wondering why someone said this or that to her. Leonardo probably never had problems like that.

She shook her head slowly and chuckled. Sarah, the Christian crew at school, and this Joanna person, it seemed like the one sin that a person should avoid was doing something impetuous or unpredictable. Why were people so afraid of … what? Whimsy, was that what you call it?

Joanna walked around the building one more time, but she couldn’t find May anywhere. No one had seen her for hours. “look,” she told a few of the people preparing dinner in the kitchen, “I gave her a little lecture about keeping her appearance modest. So maybe she got upset about that. Just let me know when she comes back so I can talk to her. I’ll be in my office”

As she was about to sit down at her desk, she saw something on her chair. It was a piece of paper folded up. It was a note from May.

“Thanks for the opportunity to work here. I apologize for leaving with no notice. I know it’s not the Christian thing to do. Please say goodbye to everyone in the kitchen for me. I’ve realized that I need to be more accountable to my imagination rather than to other people, so I have to go. Plus I want to see if some of my art-major friends want to hit the donut shop tonight. Good-bye, May.”