Episode #50 – Less is More: Freeing Up Space to Create in Chaotic Times

In September, we hit the six-month mark for our lives changing due to Covid. Today, I’m sharing my not-so-healthy response to the quarantine – and how it impacted my creative life and writing.

Let’s just say…it wasn’t good. I’ve spent the last two months clearing space, quieting down, and unplugging. If you’ve struggled with this, the changes I’ve made have helped me to slow down to reconnect with my own creativity.

In this solo episode, I discuss:

  • Why the six-month mark in a difficult time period can be especially rough to get through.
  • My unhealthy response to the challenges of Covid and the quarantine
  • Five strategies to slow down and create space to get your creativity going again if it’s been stalled
  • The significance of slowing down for your creative projects

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Ep 50 - space

Took space - grieve 2020;

Hey, it’s been a minute. Well, actually it’s been about six weeks since my last episode. Ack - what happened?!? Well, 2020 and I finally had it out, and 2020 made me sit my ass down for a break. Which is exactly what I needed to do.

2020 - means perfect vision, and as my mentor and friend Janet Conner has said, this year has been all about getting to see what we’ve been unwilling to see, clearing our vision. I thought I’d been doing so well dealing with everything, until I realized that I hadn’t been dealing very well at all.

In this episode, I want to share some of my journey through this year, my unhealthy ways of dealing, and hwo 2020 sat my ass down, opened up space, and how that’s really been the best thing. I feel like crying right now even talking about this. It’s been a HARD year, but I think one that will be such a gift for creatives, if we allow it to be. If we allow ourselves the space to feel into ti and open up to it. To actually slow down. So I’m going to talk a bit about that and what I’ve done to begin healing and getting back to myself, and I hope that might help you if you’ve found yourself struggling to do your own creative work this year.

INTRO

Oh 2020 - it’s been a wild year. For all of us. A few months ago, a friend shared an article about trauam and the six-month wall. I’ll put a link in the show notes. It was itten by a journalist who works in war-torn areas, highly stressful places and she wrote about the six month wall. The article quotes Professor Aisha Ahmad of the University of Toronto who wrote:

“The six-month mark in any sustained crisis is always difficult. We have all adjusted to this "new normal," but might now feel like we're running out of steam. Yet, at best, we are only one third of the way through this marathon. How can we keep going? First, in my experience, this is a very normal time to struggle or slump. I *always* hit a wall six months into a tough assignment in a disaster zone. The desire to "get away" or "make it stop" is intense. I've done this many times, and at 6 months, it's like clockwork”.

It will break naturally in about four to six weeks if you ride it out. Of course, there are things we have to do. Work. Teach. Cook. Exercise. But just don't expect to be sparklingly happy or wildly creative in the middle of your wall. Right now, if you can meet your obligations and be kind to your loved ones, you get an A+."

Basically, allow the break. Allow yourself to stop and slow down. This is hard. And my pattern, when life gets hard is NOT super healthy.

When life gets hard, I FILL every nook and cranny of every single moment, until I drop.
This fall, I dropped.
Why do I do this? If I'm busy, there's NO time to sit in the hard stuff and feel all the feels, which is what needs to happen to truly begin to work through it and let it go.
Earlier this month, I found myself tearfully spewing anger and rage and grief onto the pages of my journal as I looked back over 2020. My throat was so tight I could barely breathe, but what's interesting is that throughout this year, I didn't feel any of it.
I didn't allow myself to feel it. It was too big. It felt easier to push and push and push. To feel like I was DOING something. And doing can quickly take the place of feeling.
Rather than feel anything, I worked. And I had plenty of work to do between writing, my podcast, tons of client work (both creativity/writing & website/VA work), and creating and teaching workshops. And the funny thing is that I STARTED this year really intending to focus more on my own writing actually finish TWO books, one of which was halfway done. I’m just finishing the edits on that first book, because I filled my life so much that I STILL didn’t write like I wanted to.
My motto seems to be when the going gets rough, get BUSY.
I've done this before. When my husband was critically ill for months in 2015-2016, I was bound and determined to keep every ball in the air. And I did. I even paid my utility bills three times without any memory of having paid them already, so I had a credit for months!
Busy-ness is my survival tactic, but it's not a healthy one, especially when I teach workshops on journaling and play, two of the best ways I know to slow down, access my soul, and heal.
Here’s how I know I’m in the midst of a BUSY spree to avoid dealing with life (even though I weirdly think I’m hadnling it quite well because look at all the stuff I’ve crossed off my to-do list1)

For me, the symptoms of doing to avoid feeling are
A constant vague state of overwhelm, almost a little anxious about donig all the things
A feeling of nausea when something isn’t right - this pattern totally wakes up the perfectionist in me and I get slightly nauseous when there are issues with something
Constantly checking my phone
Dread about doing projects, and diving in anyway
No quiet time - always plugged in - listening to a podcast, audio book in the car, airpods in on a walk, consumption is the priority rather than quiet time
And the biggie...No new ideas - it’s HARD to come up with ideas for blog posts, podcasts, stories, quilts, ANYTHING and this is usually my zone of genius.
About two months ago, I began to hit the wall that I spoke about earlier. Or maybe the wall hit me. I began to slow down a bit. Then, a bit more. Until my feelings and frustrations were able to catch up with me, mostly on the page but on walks too. I’d find myself crying crying as I walked the easement that surrounds my neighborhood. Or ranting on the pages of my journal. It's not fun, but it feels good to crack open, to become aware of this pattern and force myself to slow down.
You probably noticed this if you listen to the podcast regularly.
Because, there were no new episodes in November at all and only two in October. I just coudln’t. I had zero inspiration for episodes. I was exhausted. We all are.
Here are the “symptoms” most common to me when I’m doing to avoid feeling. Maybe these resonate:
You’re plugged in ALL the time
In the car you’ve got the radio, a podcast or a book going
On a wlk, you’ve got earbuds in with a podcast or book
The news or tv is one when you’re at home - anyone else glued to CNN the week of Nov. 7? Me too, and it SUCKED my soul right out of my body.
Even your grounding/centering practices like journaling or yoga or walking or art like painting or quiltting start to feel like to-do’s rather than replenishing/nourishing practices
Your brain is going going going
Maybe insomnia hits
I’m describing myself here. And I needed a hard stop. So I took it.
One book that I have been listening to is called “Bored and Brilliant” by Manoush Zomorodi that I started several months ago. I’m not quite halfway through because I unplugged but I highly recommend it. I’ll put links in the show notes. One of her arguments is that in order to thnk original thoughts, we have to stop the constant stimulation, the constant going, the constant doing. Our brains didn’t evolve to live in constant stimulation like we put them in.

It’s exhausting and draining, and while we think it’s more productive, it’s actually not. This is a bit of a paradox, that slowing down and stopping actually will feed our creativity and ability to generate new and fresh ideas.

So moving forward, how do we allow for space in a world that focuses on constant consumption of others ideas and an emphasis on productivity?

Well, first, I think awareness of this is huge. If you feel like you avoid feeling by doing, like this, take it to the page. Write it out. See what comes up. I swear, my journal is the best form of therapy for working through stuff like this. Ask that question on the page - how can I create space, to slow down, so you can actually create? You’ll come up with your own answers, but I’ll share some that have been working for me.

Commit to creating space. Don’t mark items off of your to-do list. Erase them. Ask if they’re necessary? THat’s wha thappened with my podcast for six weeks. I just couldn’t. It had to go.
Even though had committed to a full year of episodes, I got to 49. Was this a fail? Not at all. It was necessary for my mental health during this time of Covid and quarantine and to begin to heal and deal with my own unhealthy patterns of dealing with difficulty in my life.
Next, unplug., allowing for some quiet space. NOT listening to anything in the car or on walks or runs,which led to tears and talking out loud and working through the crap. I turned the news off. I read fiction and some mysteries and some memoir - not non-fiction where I would learn something. I read what I found joyful and fun, what I could get lost in. I LOVE to read and I hadn’t been reading at all. So do something that you love to do, something that is play for you, where you get lost. That’s a super great place to start.
Also, I started journaling in the evening which I’ve never done before. It helped to clear my mind in a way that morning journaling doesn’t do. It was like I was tired enough to let stuff go.
I started taking long baths again, just me and the water and a candle. Well, maybe a good novel.
A few other things,
Trying to stay present in the moment - when I’m doing the dishes, what does the water feel like?
Not TRYING to get ideas or force the work - doiing what I need to do and giving my brain space to do what it needs to do
In terms of work, I’ve been:
“batching” my work. This is something I’ve heard about for years but never really implemented until the past few weeks, and I really like it. Rather than boucning around from thing to thing, I’ve been focusing on ONE thing at a time. For example, this morning was all about client work. This afternoon, I’ve been drafting podcast episodes, a whole batch of them rather than doing them one at a time each week. The ONLY tabs open are those that are dierectly related to what I’m working on. I don’t have my email or social media even open. And ALL notifications on my phone have been removed. So I don’t randomly check my email or social media or my phone. I stay WITH whatever I’m doing and it allows for my brain to focus on that one thing, which has been helpful. It’s also way more productive so I do have time for walks or a workout.

I’ve also been using the pomodoro technique which helps keep me focused. This is a timer that you can get on your phone. Basically, you do focused work for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. Repeat. It works really well. I also have used Focusmate whcih is a website where you login and you get paired with another person for a work session. Co-working is super great for focused time and focused time is incredibly helpful for me so I don’t bounce around and get overwhelmed. I’ll put links to these tools in the show notes.

Basically, I gave my brain a break. When I’m working, i’m working on ONE thing. And when I’m not working, I’ve opened up to silence and space, space to float, to daydream. Smartphones are like the antithesis of allowing ourselves space to daydream, to connect with source in those silence spaces. When we’re constantly chekcing our screens and social media and whatever else, we get addicted and our brain sort of forgets that it can come up with it’s own ideas rather than relying on that little pocket sized computer that we’re always checking to get our ideas.

I won’t say that I’m off my phone. I’m not by any stretch of the imagination but For the first time in a long while, after my slowdown and getting so much out on the page and on long walks, I had an idea for a novel, nothing big, just an invitation. But that's also confirmation that slowing down and allowing our hearts to feel, giving ourselves the space to really listen to ourselves and our souls is really key to living a creative life.

Dreams are coming back. I’ve always been a pretty vivid dreamer, but I wasn’t remembering my dreams. I am now.

I’ve brainstormed a whole bunch if different ideas for the podcast and have even scheduled some super fun interviews.

I’ve also decided that I can share short episodes - just quick creativity tips. I think I’ll be adding those into the mix. Thoughts that are important to doing our creative work and getting our ideas out of our heads and into the world, but that might not be a whole big long podcast episode, probably monthly, or so I’ll be offering creativity quick tip episodes.

The key now is to continue focusing on space, on maintaining it, on holding my boundaries with myself and insisting on that quiet time, that allowing to be bored.

We can all get through this. And one last thought before I tie this episode up. I’ve been thinking about Viktor Frankl who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning. Dr. Frankl was a jewish psychiatrist and psychotherapist who was sent to the concentration camps during World War II. Upon his release he wrote his book. While in the camps, truly one of the most horrific experiences a human could have gone through, he came up with his theory that throughout our journey on earth, we search for meaning. He found that when his fellow prisoners in the camps lost hope, and all meaning in their lives, they perished. They would give up. Dr. Frankl survived and went on to share incredibly meaningful work that helped tens of thousands of people.

His work, his ideas are what kept him going through one of the most unimaginably horrific experiences.

Our work, our creativity, our ideas can also get us through this IF we allow ourselves the space to let it.

And that’s the key. Saying NO to all of the distractions and the to-dos that dont’ really matter but make us feel important and necessary, so we can say yes to the things that actually do give our lives meaning.

So, allow yourself the space to create.

And, if you’d like to co-create or co-write, I started offering monthly writing/co-creation sessions to those on my newsletter list back in April. The next one is scheduled for the morning of December 8th. If you’d like to participate, go ahead and head on over to amyisaman.com/write-together and subscribe to my newsletter and you’ll get all of the information to join us.

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