When You Can’t Do It All, Do Something

A couple of weeks ago, I was reminded that, however good the scaffolding I’ve put in place to keep myself organized, it only takes a day or two with lowered vigilance to land me right back at square one.

This has been an awful winter, hasn’t it?  The same two or three seasonal ailments have been cycling through my family and classroom ad infinitum; it feels like every time we’ve recovered from one illness, we’re coming down with another one.  I – despite my classroom being absolutely lousy with germs, and having a typically hygiene-impaired four-year-old, managed to mostly escape getting sick.

Then, two weeks ago, I was hit with laryngitis.  The worst of the illness only lasted about two days, but it was two days when I was flat-out knocked on my ass, and let me tell you – my house fell to absolute chaos.

Because the persistent messiness of my life and my rampant ADHD don’t disappear just because I have the sniffles, I was faced, once I could walk and talk and think without coughing up a lung, with a once again seemingly insurmountable mess.

This time, I lucked out; I got sick on a Wednesday, and by the time I felt human again, it was Saturday and the start of my vacation, which meant I had no other obligations and the comfort of knowing that even if I spent an entire day (or two) fixing the mess, I still had days and days and days left to relax and chill afterward.  I’m happy to let you all know that I did, in fact, get back on track, and I’m ticking off most of the boxes on my To-Do list, most days.

But what if I didn’t have vacation? What if I had a super busy week coming up, or a series of commitments, or what if I was more seriously sick for longer?  How long do I let the house go for, and how long until it’s utterly, paralyzingly bad again (pssst – past experience says it really doesn’t take that long to get into a really bad place).

I started thinking about what I could have done if I really, truly felt like I didn’t have it in me – if I didn’t have the time, the energy, the “spoons,” whatever – what I could have done to keep that paralysis at bay without over-extending myself, without triggering my anxiety or wearing myself out physically or mentally.

So I’ve spent some time thinking, what’s one thing I could do in every room of my house to keep myself sane?  Just one thing to make me feel a little more grounded?

Like most things, I’m sure your mileage my vary, but I personally feel very sure of my list.  So, if my blog entries tend to resonate with you, maybe you’ll find this to be helpful, as well.

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Some Things to Keep in Mind

  • If you aren’t neurodivergent this list probably seems needless, obvious, and silly, but task paralysis is a major issue for me, and many others with neurodivergence, as is feeling overwhelmed by the inability to break down a task (and of course clutter and mess itself is a stressor for basically everyone, though it can literally stop me dead in my tracks). This list hopefully combats task paralysis by giving a starting point, and serves as a reminder that you don’t need to do it all at once; even completing one task makes a big difference (important for those grappling with ADHD perfectionism).
  • Even these tasks, in and of themselves, can be daunting on a bad day. I would love to eventually be able to offer a step-by-step break down on the way I get through these tasks (and others), and the strategies that work for me.  If you think this would be helpful to you (or as a general resource) please let me know and I’ll make it a priority.
  • I find that I function the best within a structure, but there is a point of diminishing returns with every increased point of rigidity or complexity within that structure (see my post about planners – the more “bells and whistles,” the more paralyzing, the more likely I am to abandon the system).  The catch-all bucket in the living room works well for me, as do broad categories of organization (an under sink bucket of general cleaning products (the more multipurpose, the better), bathroom bins for “hair stuff” (shampoo, conditioner, spray, gel), “body stuff” (shower gel, soap, lotion) and “hygiene” (toilet paper, q-tips, sanitary pads, etc) work well, because there is a system of organization that is broad enough to not be overwhelming, but clear enough to actually allow me to know where everything is.
  • I am in no way a cleaning or organizational guru, and holy crap, nor do I pretend to be.  I’m just learning, at age 36, what really works and what doesn’t work for me, and also learning to be patient with myself, let go of the need for things to be perfect, and work to the best of my ability within the head space I’m occupying at any given moment.  What works for me may not work for you, but sometimes, it’s worth a shot (and it may work for someone else).

 

When Their Art is “Art” and Your Art is… Not

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Here’s the double-edged sword of looking to others’ art for inspiration:

You are undoubtedly going to start making comparisons of their art to your own.

And yours will, inevitably, be found lacking.

A month ago – oh my God, where did the time go? – I went to a convention hoping to help spark my creativity by surrounding myself with creative people and the products of their creativity.

I’ve had a pretty positive creative start to 2019 – I didn’t hit my January goals, but I made real progress, and I’m making progress on my February goals, as well.  So I was hopeful, going in, that I would find an additional boost of inspiration for future projects – maybe fresh subject matter, or a medium I hadn’t tried before, or new ways of using familiar art tools.

The convention did not disappoint.  I came away with a wealth of writing and poetry resources, and having absorbed and observed a myriad of visual art of all styles and mediums.  I came home aching to create art.

And I did.  And they’re probably technically among the best pieces I’ve ever created.

And it is still so, so hard for me to bring myself to call them “art.”

Objectively, I’ve seen similar looking pieces in gallery showings before – bold bright colors, kinda kitschy – not so identical to other works as to be derivative, per se, but alike enough to say, hey, this is recognizably similar to these other pieces.  Pieces I would refer to as “art.”

So what separates, in my mind, my work from theirs?  Especially the work I’m mostly proud of?

That’s what I really want to emphasize: this is work that I think looks good.  It’s not the most skilled artistry, but I’m a beginner, and on an aesthetic front, I find it pleasing.

So why is it that I can’t bring myself to think of it as anything more than the concrete manifestation of a self-conscious shrug?

And actually, I think I kind of, sort of might have actually figured it out.  Or at least figured out part of it.

None of my art… “means” anything.  It’s not political or deeply personal or intellectually challenging; it’s never going to be controversial, or have people arguing over the creator’s intent, or be interpreted or analyzed in an art history class.  It’s visual doggrel. It’s ephemera.

It’s just some paint on a canvas.

But why isn’t that enough?  Why can’t I just splash some paint on a canvas and create something that… makes you want to look at it?  That makes your eyes hungry for it?  Something that you can consume, enjoy, and move on?

I drew all the time as a kid; I was not an amazing artist, but I was pretty good for my age. Peers, teachers, and friends would often compliment and comment on my work, and I had pictures hung at art fairs and won school awards, and drawing was fun.  It was enjoyable for me, as an artist, and it seemed to bring pleasure to those who saw it.

It wasn’t until I took studio art in high school that suddenly I had to, like, validate my art with an explanation.  And that’s not to deride or delegitimize people who produce highly personal, political, or otherwise “meaningful” art – it’s just to say that, up until that point, the act of creating in and of itself was enough.  The aesthetic pleasure it brought to others was enough.

But then suddenly, I had to defend what I produced – what was the inspiration, what did it mean, how long did it take?  Suddenly, the measure of worth was placed on how “deep” the “meaning” of the work was, or how labor intensive it was to produce.

You know, sometimes you see a color and want to paint with it.  Sometimes, your brain just goes, “You know what’s awesome?  FRICKIN’ ROBOTS,” and you want to draw some damn robots.  Sometimes you spend days laboring over a painting; sometimes you commit a ten-minute doodle to your sketchbook.  None of these things is inherently more or less valuable than the others.

I want to go back to the days when “making art” was about having fun, and bringing someone joy.  Hell, even if that someone is just me.  Why do we devalue our own pleasure so readily?  My happiness is important.  When I find something that brings me joy, that should be celebrated.  That should mean something.

And if you think that broadening the definition of art somehow devalues labor intensive art made by technically skilled or trained artists, then I have to ask you why you think we have to withhold respect from any group of people in order to give it to another.  Respecting and recognizing someone or something as valuable is not a limited resource; we don’t have to ration it.  I can deeply appreciate, and even be in awe, of the beauty and skill inherent in a work of classical art, and still cling to my graphic novels (and in fact, this works the other way as well – I can be in awe of the skill and beauty of a classical work of art and still feel no personal pull or connection to it. You cling to what you connect to, and you can’t control and shouldn’t be shamed for whatever the object of that affection is).

I can get pleasure from a Van Gogh painting and a comic book; a Carravagio and a cartoon.  They are different kinds of pleasure – sometimes life-affirming, sometimes awe-inspiring, sometimes a quick chuckle, sometimes a belly laugh.  We need all of them.  The experience of one form of pleasure does not dull the others.

So I’m going to try to take all this to heart and go back to painting pretty pictures.  The technical piece (which I do need to work on) will come in time, with patience and practice, but I can’t promise that the subject matter will get any deeper.  I just really like painting robots, and gems, and bones, and birds, in bright neon colors.

That’s ok.  Someone will like them.  Even if it’s only me.

How is He Mine?

 

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I mentioned we took Bear to the library the other day, but had to cut is short; I had a headache, we had to go grocery shopping, and I needed to go home and cook.  I honestly wanted to skip the library all together, but I can’t deny Bear that simple pleasure.  He adores the library, and the last thing I want to do is discourage him from that love in any way.

I’m thrilled that Bear is developing a love of books, and excited that he’s already starting to sound out words (pretty successfully!) months before his fourth birthday, but I also love watching him interact with the other kids.  It’s both a joy and a complete and utter mystery to me.

I have several people in my life with kids around Bear’s age; friends, acquaintances, coworkers.  Almost without fail, they are all sweet kids, but most of them have the typical shyness I always associated with small children; the coy, peeking-out-behind-mom’s-legs sort of shyness that people fawn over as being “sweet.”

I was one of those kids, except I never really grew out of it. I present, I think, as a pretty friendly person, and I feel like that’s what most people see; but from the other side, I spend a lot of time in my own head second guessing everything I do, hyper-critical of everything I say, overly anxious and worried about how to navigate socially.  I definitely have good (even great!) days and bad days, but being social and interacting (broadly) with people will always feel draining and slightly uncomfortable to me.

Then there is my son.

My son is like local celebrity at our library; the librarians know him by name, and he likes to ask them about all the stuff on their desk, and the new displays at the front of the children’s room.  Being that he sees them every week (and we’ve been going there for a couple of years now), I’m not totally shocked that he’s gotten comfortable with them.

But then there are the other kids.  This past visit, we walked in and he noticed two other kids, both slightly older than him, sitting at one of the tables coloring.  Immediately he smiled and walked over.

“Hiiii!  What is your name?  What are you doing?  Are you coloring?  What’s a contest?  I would like to do a contest.  Can I sit and color with you?  I would like to sit and share crayons with you.  Can I have a pink and a blue crayon, please?  Thanks.  Are you coloring a ghost?  What is your ghost’s name?  Is he Casper?  Casper is from a show.  It is called, ‘Casper, the Friendly Ghost!’  He is not a spooky ghost.  What are you reading?”

To my son, the idea of not going up to a person and trying to make friends with them is unthinkable.  His instinct upon meeting anyone new is to try to engage them; to greet them and ask them questions about themselves.  He doesn’t understand other children’s reticence to open up to him; he isn’t mean-spirited about it, but he can’t fathom why anyone wouldn’t want to try to make friends with him.

It’s fascinating to watch, as a person who was very much unlike that for the vast majority of my life.  It’s enviable, that level of absolute comfort he must have in himself.  It’s also a little scary.

Because when I say he wants to make friends with everyone, I mean everyone.  Little kids, big kids, the cashiers at the supermarket, people on the train, people waiting for the bus.  Once in Florida, we got off the tram at MCO, and when I turned to look at my son (whose hand I was holding), he was also holding the hand of a strange woman who had been seated near us during the ride.  She was kind and amused at his antics, but while I laughed it off, it gave me pause.

I don’t want to shut my son down.  I don’t want to instill fear into his heart, or make him afraid of talking to people he doesn’t know, or reaching out to befriend others.  But I also need to teach him – in a way that won’t do those things – how to be cautious around strangers, and how not everyone you meet is a kind or friendly person.

The world needs more people like my son, people who go out of their way to try to include and befriend people, and I need my son to be both happy and safe, without depriving the world of his vivacity.  As someone whose native language is, in so many ways, social fear, I’m not totally sure how to do that.

But, as has been the case with literally every other aspect of parenthood, I’m sure I’ll learn.  For now, I’m just going to enjoy watching my son do his thing, wherever we go.