Becoming an Expert of Not Being an Expert

In the past many months, I almost forgot I was working on a book. It was still there, popping into my thoughts every so often; but not as something I was excited about. It came up as an example of how I never finish anything and stay as a constant beginner in anything I do. But last week, I decided to actually take another look at it.

It’s interesting to me that part of why I put off working on the book or even opening the file is because I feel ashamed. I feel ashamed that I never finished it, that I don’t seem to stick with anything for very long and always change my mind. Different things will set my creativity on fire at different times and I have a hard time once it gets down to really building skills. I’d rather dabble. Is there anything wrong with this?

Benefits and Downsides of Dabbling

Today I’m in a good mood, so I see it all through that lens. I am noticing that as I work on songs today and contemplate the book, the two types of writing feed into each other. It’s enjoyable to work on one and then the other, and go back and forth as I please. I feel like maybe both forms of writing are turning out better for it.

It is now officially impossible for me to say “Here’s this craft I’ve been working on diligently for fifteen years.”  I have played guitar, made jewelry, and written for at least that long. But none of those things became a regular practice that I truly devoted attention and energy to. I would forget about some of them for years at a time, except writing in my journal. Chances are that I’ll forget about one of them soon again, as other things spark up my interest.

Acknowledging Patterns

I realize that next week, I may feel very hard on myself for not having a well-practiced art form. I’ll tell myself that the reason everything I do is so mediocre is that I don’t put enough energy into it, and then I’ll probably zone out on Facebook and numb out that feeling.  Why is it so easy to enjoy the dabbling right now? One answer could be hormones. Another could be the focus of where I perceive value to be coming from.

If I’m thinking about how I should be making a living from my jewelry or writing, it’s easy to get mad at myself for not putting more devoted effort into those things over the years. “If you had worked at writing since high school, you’d be better at it now.” 

But if I’m thinking about having fun and living a life that I find enjoyable and fulfilling, then the dabbling seems fine because it has led to just that. Nobody else gets to determine whether I enjoy doing something, they just get to determine if I get their positive feedback or not.

Who Gets to Decide You’re Doing it Wrong?

Maybe part of the key is to remember where value lies. It is always up to us to live according to our values and to feel worthy, but when we start making comparisons or judging our value through the eyes of real or imaginary others, it feels like it is up to them.

“You aren’t making money with your art, therefore, it’s not valuable” can come up for me and other artists. That can be true of to you “value” means “making money by selling art”.  But if “value” means that you are engaged with the process of creating it or with the final result, that’s a whole different thing. Maybe your money has to come from elsewhere, or maybe you have to make certain things that are valuable to the world so that they will pay you for them if that’s what matters most to you.

The bottom line is- I can safely say that I have fun dabbling, even if it doesn’t lead to me becoming an expert who blows other people’s minds with my skills.  Maybe I am my own type of expert.

I hope that I can remember this the next time my anger and frustration towards myself kicks in. As I look back at recent rough days, I realize that the self-critical feeling is always based on the eyes of others and not my own. Whether it’s about dabbling in general or about a specific story or song, when I feel like I suck it is always feeling like I suck in the eyes of others or the world. Not in my own eyes. When I feel the air on my skin and the breath in my lungs, I am never dissatisfied with that experience. When I pump out a song or story or post to try and get positive feedback without enjoying the process or actually feeling the creativity, it usually backfires because the whole action was based on other people telling me I’m worthy instead of feeling worthy and engaged in the moment.

How about you, do these things ever come up in this way for you and your writing?

Do you feel like you always look through your own eyes at your work, or through the eyes of others, or through a mixture of both?

Did you feel the wind on your face today and enjoy it for a few seconds?

 

 

 

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Going on a Date with the Unplanned

Last night I was supposed to play music at a lovely lounge with a friend. I was going to play for a half hour during his set break and was quite excited. As it turned out, the bar was closed for cleaning and they hadn’t told him.

I was caught off guard, sitting on sixth street with my guitar and a pretty dress in rather sweltering heat. My friend told me there would be an open mic in a few hours at a bar around the corner, so I decided to set up shop there while I figured out what to do.

If you’re ever in Austin and see a girl sipping a beer and furiously writing in a notebook instead of talking to people, probably with a guitar propped on her bar stool, please, do come say hi.

One of the things I began pondering was how sometimes, you just can’t force an unplanned evening. It wouldn’t be the same. Many potential plans started to arise- there was an open mic near my house, an open mic across town, a birthday party. I had to pick. I realized this particular flavor of groundlessness was something to cherish because I never would have been able to fabricate it. Deciding on going to that bar would have been in my consciousness at least an hour in advance so that I could get the right bus.

I began to think about the universe as if it was a person, or at least, a thing with a personality. I was noticing that perhaps part of this personality included a tendency to put me and maybe others in situations where they were groundless. What the incentive would be is beyond me, but perhaps it has something to do with getting us to actually be able to listen. It’s easier to listen and feel for me when I’m not in the middle of a plan.

I decided to stay at the open mic I was already at. It didn’t feel right to do

My songs are for sale at http://jenniferstuart.bandcamp.com/

My songs are for sale at http://jenniferstuart.bandcamp.com/

anything else, almost like there was a current to follow. I would get to the birthday party afterwards, since that was the most sentimentally important thing on the list. It turned out that the showcase act who would have played from 7-8pm did not show up. The gentleman running the event let me play early and ended up giving me about five extra songs, partially because most people hadn’t shown up yet for the open mic and partially (at least I imagine) because the folks at the bar were actually enjoying it. Plus I was wearing a pretty dress.

Many times I have thought that the fabric of our connected reality really does have a personality, and a sense of humor. I have seen it most in the times when I had fewer plans. Last night was a fresh reminder that there are so many options to tap into that unplanned state, and we never get to pick when they happen. We just get to pick how to relate to them and how much appreciation to give them and ourselves during those times.

Sometimes those times are linked with trauma. I don’t think the same appreciation would be possible in those cases. Instead, I think it could be directed at ourselves and our space and our ability to be open to what we need when we need it in those times.

On another note, I opened my Etsy shop. It is called Jenerprise Jems. The world right now to me feels groundless still. I’m following up on job leads and hoping to find something soon, especially if it leaves me time to keep creating necklaces and improving my ability to play music.

I wanted this to be my cover photo for etsy but it's too big.

I wanted this to be my cover photo for etsy but it’s too big.

Have you had any dates with the universe lately where plans didn’t go your way and ended up leading to new connections or inspiration?

Have you thought that the universe has a personality of sorts, and if so, what’s your favorite aspect of it?

If you do think it works that way, how do you account for all of the many terrible things that also happen? Is everything just random, is there a higher power controlling it, is that power simply unable to prevent us from doing horrible things to each other but there to guide us when we are open to it?

Maybe it’s my joblessness catching up and turning me existential..but for now this is what I can think of to write about.

Also, please do look at the sky. Especially if the sun is setting, rising, or absent.

Creativity, Productivity, and Self-Worth

When I was writing more short stories, I tried to “play” with toys like I used to as a child. I thought this would help me get my creativity flowing. It was hard, like something was in the way of the river that used to flow effortlessly.

Sometimes that river still flows. I create a new necklace design, or make a song unlike any others I’ve made so far. It’s a great feeling, one that I’d love to have at the push of a psychological button.

But if there’s one thing I learned from great books like the Happiness Trap and Daring Greatly, it’s that you can’t control or force feelings.

In this post, I will explore a few things in my relationship to creativity that have been prominent in the past week.

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Some of my necklaces. Etsy store coming soon I think!

Here’s one frustrating chain of events that happens regarding necklaces:

1. I start creating from a free creative place. I make some cool macrame design that I’ve never done before.

2. I decide to do that design again, on another necklace.

3. I start making necklaces that all have that design, or some variation thereof.

This happens with more than necklaces. It happens with my songs. I never used to think about how a song would be received when I wrote it, but now I do. If one song is received very well, I am more likely to play it again or to try and find why it went over so well so that I can incorporate that element into other songs.

On some days, the goal-less innocent free-form creativity feels like it’s taking a back seat to the “get-er-done” mentality, connected to the “do things that other people like” mentality. It’s less creative, more productive. Sometimes this is useful, like with necklaces- especially if there is a style that is selling. Then I definitely want to make more of that type, because I’m trying to make that my livelihood. But that mentality does not need to touch my music, and it also isn’t useful to have it around the clock with the jewelery.

So where does it come from? I think I have a feeling about at least part of the story.

Creativity & Pleasing Others & Self-Worth

I think one strong factor in this process is the phenomenon of pleasing others. It’s truly an amazing one. The fact that you can do something creative, sometimes with no intention of even showing another human, and get praise can actually rock your world a little bit.

Suddenly, that reward is part of the process on a visceral level. If you sing a song and someone likes it, even though you didn’t expect them to, that feels good. You just made someone happy for a moment with innocent goal-less creativity. The next time you sing a song, or make a piece of art, part of you may wonder if someone will like it. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. If they don’t, the something that wasn’t even missing before is now missing. Sometimes it can still feel fun to share, but sometimes, the fun is zapped and you are left confused about where it went.

A couple of times last week, I’d play at an open mic and finish and feel horrible about myself. Full of shame, like I should have never even touched a guitar in my lifetime. People would be saying nice things, but I didn’t believe them. I was expecting a reward to change how I felt, and it didn’t. I realized I had to look at what was going on, or else it was going to be a nasty spiral. Whenever shame is playing a part in what’s going on, I turn to Brene Brown’s work.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown talks about attaching self-worth to what we create. Here’s an excerpt from page 63: ” Because of how you were raised or how you approach the world, you’ve knowingly or unknowingly attached your self-worth to how your product or art is received. In simple terms, if they love it, you’re worthy; if they don’t, you’re worthless.”

She explains how sharing your art or project is an essential part of Wholehearted Living. On the next page, she writes “With an awareness of shame and strong shame resilience skills, this scenario is completely different…Yes, it will be disappointing and difficult if your friends or colleagues don’t share your enthusiasm, or if things don’t go well, but this effort is about what you do, not who you are. Regardless of the outcome, you’ve already dared greatly, and that’s totally aligned with your values; with who you want to be.”

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Playing at the pool party at my apartment complex! You can also hear my new song Supermoon

Her words helped me see the situation more clearly. I was beginning to confuse people liking my work with the joy of creating it. If I’m playing guitar and focused mainly on what others are doing, trying to assess the value of my performance that way, it’s a disaster. One person talking or walking away can be converted in my head to a definite sign that I suck. Really, that’s not what that indicates, and I know that, but in the moment that’s how it feels.

When I play guitar and stay in my body, focused more on feeling present and enjoying the physical sensations of playing, then the person walking away doesn’t bother me. I may not even notice. And because I stayed present and didn’t get obsessed with what others might be thinking, I may actually be able to take a compliment at the end because I didn’t already made up my mind that it was a disaster.

Creating Versus Producing

When I’m trying to use any creative project for an actual income, it’s an interesting line. Creating and producing are two different things. Both are sometimes necessary.

I can produce necklaces very fast when I need to, just like I can produce writing or songs. I can also take my time and create necklaces, writing, and songs. I can wait for that playful part of my brain to chime in, notice the feeling of that, and make the most of it when it arrives. Like I said, I don’t expect to force it to come. I’m sure I can cultivate a friendly relationship with it the more I learn to look it in the eye and not confuse it with its distant relatives, like the people-pleasing impulse.

How about you, do you have an interesting relationship to creativity depending on how much you are relying on it for income?

Do you think it’s easy to zap into free-form creativity with no expectation of a result, or do you always create with an eye on the prize of how it will be received?

Do you show all of your creative projects to others or are there some for just you?

Have you been enjoying this time of year?

 

 

 

Curiosity, Meet Convenience: Hidden Stories

Remember that feeling in middle school where you introduce a friend to your parents, and you feel torn in half as you suddenly  realize there are different and sometimes incompatible versions of yourself to keep track of? Sometimes that feeling still happens when you introduce friends from different circles to each other. You are different versions of “you” with both parties and suddenly you have to find the middle ground, and it’s not always comfortable.

Blending Worlds to Deepen The Depth of the Moment

I am many people throughout the course of the day. Sometimes, I am mindful and curious and aware and gentle. Other times, I’m fast, furious, focused, and indulging in the convenient.

But the other day the two worlds met. I was eating a corn tortilla and found myself wondering how many people’s lives were involved with the whole process of making them.

From the plastic wrapper they came in to the fields the corn was grown in to the design of the package and the light switches at the factory that pumps them out. How many people were involved? Hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions if you really got right down to it (since each piece of the factory was made in another, and those people were technically involved with these tortillas…you get the idea). Who turns off the lights at the factory, what do they eat for dinner when they get home from work?

Singing Songs to the Cows

I spend half my time in a rural area. I sit on the porch and watch cows. One of them has big white spots and he’s going to turn into food someday. I watch him graze and let my heart ache a little with the awareness of his imminent demise that he has no idea about. He’s just eating grass in the sun.

But someday, people are going to eat him. They will taste the burger and not think of the girl that sat on the porch, folded book on her lap and spiderweb-filled mini-guitar singing songs to the cow as he nibbled on grass by the river. They won’t think of her or her story at all, just the food on their plate and other things on their mind at the time. How could they possibly know about her, never even mind what she had for dreams last night or for breakfast or how she gazed curiously at her corn tortillas.

I wonder about these stories that can infuse our convenient moments with curiosity. It’s easy to buy a package of corn tortillas, but it’s also possible to have curiosity for them.

Loosening the Grip of Our Own Story

In the past few days since the corn tortilla incident, I have applied this type of curiosity to other things and moments that otherwise can feel rather habitual. Brushing my teeth, making coffee, walking around the grocery store. And I’ve discovered something wonderful.

Stories are everywhere, curiosity can always be kindled. Every item on the counter, every car in the lot, every person walking by- stories on top of stories on top of stories.

It’s fun to jump into another story to see the context of our own. It can get us out of our own head, and it can bring some magic to an ordinary moment. It can also be great fuel for the imagination for writing stories and songs or working with a business problem in a new and creative way.

I feel moved to share this little tidbit because it has really stuck with me, and getting to stuck in our own story can sometimes limit us in terms of what we imagine. Imagination is great, use it whenever you can, especially when it can bring you a greater amount of gratitude and appreciation and awe for the little things in life like corn tortillas. glowy jen and zeek on couch

Are there convenient things that you take for granted a lot that may contain stories you never even imagined?

Do you think that it would be fun to look at life with this type of curiosity sometimes, or would it just make things too complicated?

Do you stare into lit up windows and wonder about the people who live inside and what they might be like?

I hope everyone is well 🙂

 

Our Un-Psychic Audience: Reclaiming the Weight We Put On Magic’s Shoulders

So often we are saying this in different words.

Do you think about the way you communicate with the people that you expect to receive your art?

If we want to publicize ourselves, we need to think about what it is we are putting out there, especially if we want more attention than we are getting. We could also stand to have less of an expectation of psychic ability on the part of our audience. Let me explain.

There are times where we are expecting Magic to fill the gaps we leave. Once we see these places, we can start to fill them ourselves, leaving Magic to do bigger and better things. Maybe we can even admit that the less-than-desirable attention we are getting is actually related to the quality and energy of what we are offering.

Once we notice these things, we have more power to stop engaging in them unconsciously.

Indirect Communication & The Expectation of Magic

People can communicate indirectly. If you have been friends with or dated people who do it often, you know how frustrating it can be. “Don’t you hate when it’s chilly outside” can mean “Please turn the heat on, I’m cold.”  There are endless variations.

A friend who was studying linguistics told me that women are more likely to engage in indirect communication than men, and I don’t doubt it.

Within indirect communication, there is a kernel of an expectation of Magic. We expect that the proclamation of how we dislike cold is going to magically send our real meaning into the brain of the other person. It’s not always conscious, of course, but it is there. And it comes up in other ways.

Expectation of Magic With Writing

This pattern of expectation can affect our writing and other art.

With writing, if we assume that the background of a scene is laid out sufficiently when it is not, the reader can get confused. If we don’t think about a character’s underlying motives and personality, their drive is unclear and the story is not compelling.

This is why my first stories were crappy. I expected people to understand how interesting my ideas were because they appeared so in my head; like a child thinking you can’t see him because he is covering his own eyes.

Giving The Magic a Place to Stand: The Value of Effort

If you wanted to do NaNo, you could talk about it all you want from January to October. If November 1st rolls around and you still have to get yourself a computer, a desk, time off of work, typing lessons and a story idea, then you are not prepared.

If, on the other hand, you cleaned your desk, defragged your computer, stocked up on your favorite foods, had plenty of tea, took a few extra days off of work, saved money to cover that loss, and told your family and friends to expect less communication during the month of November, all by the middle of October, then your scene is set rather differently. You put in the work to give yourself the maximum amount of time to empathize with your characters and let the writing happen without extra hindrance.

I am willing to make an assumption that those who put in the effort before NaNo are more likely to write something that others would enjoy reading. And the same goes for other types of art and projects.

The Difference Between Frantic Advertising & Popularity

No matter how much we advertise ourselves to the world, we are not going to get real attention if our product sucks and if we aren’t really putting ourselves out there to the extent of our ability. That’s just how it goes, in my eyes.

Brene Brown‘s work on Vulnerability comes to mind. Despite the excited freshness with which she presents herself, she did many years of research before her famed TED talk. She was not just throwing some ideas together and hoping for the best like some people do with their blog posts (ahem). She did studies, she read books, she went to therapy; and only after building all of that solid ground did she share the results and touch an audience.

Music is similar. Someone who does a live guitar solo after years of practice is going to impress the crowd even if they make mistakes much more than the person who does a solo after playing for a month or two. The past effort shows, it informs the skill of the present, and it touches us when they can show us the extent of this skill in a vulnerable and fresh way. If the second person were to sing words that they’d been thinking about and reflecting on for years with a sensitive awareness, then that may be more touching than the guitar part; it all depends on what they share and when and to whom.

It basically seems like people recognize hard work and skill when they see it; not when they are told to.

How Do We Use This Information?

Maybe we can do a more honest acknowledgment of what we are putting out there, what we put into it, and how much that shows. Then we can reduce the tendency to think others psychically know that we deserve love and attention, and actually start showing them what we do and what we offer so that they can make their own choice.

Trust the things that you know, the things that you have been studying formally and informally. Trust them and share them, but perhaps be aware of where an assumption of a psychic audience  is creeping in. If people aren’t responding, figure out why it is the case. How would you see you if you were objective and had no idea of what was in your head? What is getting held back and does it add into the whole picture?  Maybe you will notice where you may not be reaching them with the greatness that you feel you have to share.

Aside from my closest friends and my mom, nobody would like the things I began writing at first.  I wasn’t deserving of praise and attention from an objective audience, and now it is obvious. But at the time, I was confused as to why my first blog posts weren’t catching on like wildfire. But now I get it, at least partially. I hardly knew what the hell I was doing, and still don’t, but I’m closer. Even if all of my friends share my posts, the people that come back and read them are those that are touched by what they see because they found it on their own; rarely if ever is it the people who I messaged and personally asked to come by. And I know that I have more sharing to do, more vulnerability to meet, and more techniques to employ in terms of applying the knowledge I’ve worked for many years to understand.

Maybe we need to understand our non-responsive audience more effectively. They aren’t psychic, we aren’t sharing something of value to them, and when we do, they will be touched and will come back for more. If we are sharing honestly and vulnerably and nobody cares, then perhaps we need to re-evaluate what we are doing if their attention is something that we require (such as anyone who wants to write or make art for a living).

This is a new way of thinking for me and I’m trying it on to see what new actions it may lead to. The last time I explored a mindset (paying more attention to vulnerability, from Brene Brown’s TED talk) I ended up cutting off five years’ worth of dreadlocks because I realized that the comfort I was gaining from them was not necessarily something I wanted to keep indulging in.

I  realize that my old writing was full of assumptions and expectations, laying a whole lot on the shoulders of Magic, and I’m only now starting to find my voice and hold that weight myself, letting Magic do what it wants and letting the psychic abilities of my readers be used for better things than figuring out what I’m trying to say. I’m supposed to be a writer, so it’s kind of my freaking job. I may as well step up to it.

What About You?

Do you think that you are getting the attention you think you deserve for your art, writing, or other type of work? If not, do you know what you want to do better? Do you want support in that regard?

Do you think that this is crazy and I’m totally off track, and that things can get organically famous and popular without the person having spent time on the skill or figuring out how to best share it with the world? Do those of us that are beginners have any hope of reaching people? Have you ever done something as a beginner and had it have a great impact on others?

Do you use indirect communication, or do you know someone who does? Is it less annoying to you than to me?

I always love your guys’ thoughts; they have helped me learn about my writing more than anything in the past.  Thank you so very much for sharing them, publicly and privately.