You don’t make art out of great intentions.
– Gustave Flaubert
Everyone has something that gives a slice of sanctuary, relief, peace and pleasure in life. For some, it’s gardening, birding, hiking, sewing and for others it’s baking, running or even cutting grass. If you’re anything like me, photography is a “soul feeder.” I love making images of things I find interesting and beautiful, no matter what the subject. And, while not every effort is rewarded with “stellar,” it’s the act of doing and the experience that provides the “food” – the excitement, the sanctuary, the awe and the lessons. So, why don’t I make more time to simply do what I love? And, why don’t you?
The chosen passion doesn’t matter. What matters is that you keep doing – for you – what feeds you. I enjoy doing a lot of different things, including and especially photographing flowers, nature and old things. (I also love to cut grass!) If I’m out with my camera, I can find all kinds of ways to smile and enjoy the moments. Walking shorelines, woodlands, gardens and roaming the rural landscapes are good to me and for me. Even painting walls and refinishing furniture is. But when I make time for myself to spend time with my camera and subjects that speak to me, bigger and better things happen.
When I slow down, sit down and am present in the moment, all other life or work concerns evaporate, if even for just a few moments or an hour. My breathing slows, my shoulders drop, and all the mind clutter is swept aside or away for that window of time. No matter how long or short the duration, that uninterrupted and undivided time is just what I need. The key is to plug in – completely, which is not always easy.
You might think that because photography is both my vocation and avocation, being with my camera and being “in the zone” is a continual and natural state. Not true at all. For example, if I am scouting for a workshop and also shooting, my attention is focused on the locations and thinking about what is there for my clients. Is it safe? Will they like it? What is there to work with photographically and, yes, is there enough parking and does it have a bathroom? Not to mention, where’s the nearest restaurant or what do we do about food in the boonies? This is a necessary form of mind clutter and important for my work, but it is not helpful or conducive for my getting “in the zone.” It’s about taking care of others, not about taking care of me.
I can look back on my work and remember when I was working and when I was feeding and refueling my creative spirit. I can recall my headspace at that time. The execution may not reveal the differences, but the emotional impact for me will. There’s a difference between being technically correct and tapping into the heart. Neither one is right or wrong necessarily. However, if you’re one who responds to things by how they make you feel, then the “heart tap” in your work really matters. It is what separates certain images I’ve made from others. I can often remember how I was feeling when images were created, what in life was swirling, how long it took for me to unplug, and when the breathing began to slow. I can remember when the distracting “noise” began to fade and my awareness and connection to what was in front of me became stronger.
MAKE THE TIME FOR YOU
We need to Make the Time to Take Care of ourselves, creatively and otherwise. If we don’t, we can end up in a state of wither and disappointment. And, we need to do make this time without feeling guilty about it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard and still hear, “I really miss doing ____________, but ‘life’ keeps getting in the way.” Or, “I haven’t picked up my camera in months (or even years) and “I’ve been in a slump.” You know what? We need to take better care of ourselves. If we enjoy something (anything!), we need to make the time to do it – even if it’s just for an hour a week. It’s a good start.
Here’s the thing: We all have calendars and make appointments. We keep those appointments with others and even add more to our schedule for everyone else. We don’t put ourselves on the calendar. We are more likely to “intend to” do the things that involve taking time for ourselves. I get it. I’m guilty of this as well. For those of us old enough to remember Gilda Radner as Rosanne Roseannadanna, “It’s always something.” True – that’s life. It’s what we live. Life is not in the way. We make the choices.
GET STARTED WITH AN APPOINTMENT
Here’s an idea for you and for me. Get your calendar out and make one of those unbreakable appointments with yourself. Be realistic. I’d love to mark out whole days, but that’s not always feasible. If you only have one hour, block that time and keep that appointment. It doesn’t matter what you do with that time: take a nap, read a book, take a walk, sit and listen to the birds and the leaves rustling in the wind. This is YOUR TIME. Oh, and how about you grab your camera and one lens and find something interesting to photograph.
Don’t make it complicated. Enjoy your appointment. If you’ve been in a slump and beating yourself up for not taking time to do for yourself, for not making time to do what you love . . . stop. Just stop. It’s not helping you or your creative spirit, the one that is aching for relief and to be fed. Remember, we’re only starting with one hour a week. That’s one hour out of 168. You can do it. If I can, so can you. We all need to. REMINDER: This one hour is for your creative space. It is not for laundry, dishes, dog walking, errand running or anything unrelated to taking care of you and whatever will feed you in that hour (or more) to get you going again and feeling plugged in and refreshed.
CONSCIOUS DECISIONS AND EFFORT
You’ll recall that I did not say that the “take care – make time” exercise is easy. It’s not. In fact, it is easier to blow off than it is to start and stick with. Ask me how I know . . . See below.
I buy myself flowers periodically. I buy them more often when I know I’ll be home long enough to make that time to photograph them. Often, I intend to carve out that time. Just as often . . . I don’t. Shame on me. I, too, can spare at least one hour out of 168 in a week. I come up with a range of reasons (aka excuses) for not following through. It happens. However, instead of beating myself up about it, I’ve learned to shift my perspective. I love flowers. I love them in the house. They’re beautiful, and they lift my spirits when I have them. So, they, along with photography, are soul feeders for me. Not photographing them doesn’t mean that I have “failed” to take care of myself. It means that I spread out the care. And I still have opportunities to do so with my camera. I’ve gotten better at making and keeping the photography appointments with my flowers.
In fact, recently I led a workshop, Dig Deeper, with six ladies in a beautiful area of the Blue Ridge in Virginia. We spent many hours with flowers and amazing natural beauty while also digging deeper with focused creative exercises to lead the way. One included writing a haiku that paired with an image made during the workshop. My prep time included scouting, which means that my focus is more on the ladies and not on carving out time for my care and feeding. This time, however, I made a deliberate and conscious effort to make time for me.
While at Pharsalia in Tyro, Virginia, I sat down in front of a purple iris with my Lensbaby Soft Focus optic and macro filters. I had to sit in order to commit. When I did that, my idea was to simply go with the flow, to give myself this time and go where it took me. It led me to essence. In those fifteen minutes with the iris, I made 69 images. And, while it was not an hour, I ended that session feeling relaxed and refreshed.
When the workshop ended, I left with a full bucket of flowers to bring home, ostensibly to photograph. I gave some away and still have the rest on standby. It took me four days to make the time for me. That time, spent with one red anemone, turned out to be two hours. (I used my Nikon 70-180mm micro and diopters and even broke out my very long neglected flash. We’re just getting reacquainted.) Later that day, early evening offered another opportunity. I switched to another section of flowers and my Lensbaby Velvet 85 and Canon 500D. I gave myself another hour. The only plan I had was to shoot and see what I would find, not to execute any specific image.
The act of doing, practicing and playing is important. It frees us up to discover new things, learn to be open, be more comfortable and fluid with our gear. It allows us to give ourselves permission to “not like” what we create in the process. And, unless we have a specific objective in mind, the time we give ourselves is more important and more valuable than the resulting images. Yesterday, I was able to give myself three hours to use some creative space with my flowers. Today, my gear and those flowers are waiting for me to finish writing. Today . . . I will explore new ones and breath easier for the time I give myself – the time I am making to take care. Afterwards, or in between, the laundry, errands and other work will get done.
PUT YOURSELF ON YOUR CALENDAR
If you’re one of those who are or have been in a creative slump, you’re not alone. I’ve been there and will be there again. I’m certain of it. What I’ve shared here is what I need to hear. So, I tell others in order to hear it again and again. I am the broken record I need to hear.
Whatever feeds you, makes you feel good, pulls you out of a slump or lifts you up, DO IT! Put yourself on your calendar. Make the appointment, and don’t break it. While the fifteen minutes I spent with the iris could have easily turned into an hour, I was able to shut out the rest of the world and my obligations. I stopped the noise and got into the zone. The more you practice (the more I practice) and decide to flip the switch, the easier it will get. Make and keep that unbreakable appointment with yourself.