Archives for posts with tag: creativity

I was sick for three months.

Ok, so maybe it was more like 2.75. But whatever. I’m a writer. Sometimes writers fudge and expand the details to enhance the story.

At any rate, at the exact time that I had FINALLY been given some time to do that THING that has most called to me for almost my entire life is the time when sickness fell and wiped me out. For, like, that last three months.

For years I’d been a busy, professional and rather successful career woman. I had the titles, the salary, the friends (but not the car… a part of me has always eschewed totally following the cliché). But last year, something snapped. A bit of frustration, plus a workaholic schedule, plus the growing realization that my life was perfectly poised to go DO this thing – for once – naturally made me want to shake it all up.
Full confession: I am approaching the official mid-life mark, and now that it’s nearly here and I’ve made the jump, I can no longer deny that perhaps the big 4-0 had more to do with this new life than I’d previously wanted to admit.

I am, admittedly in this telling, glossing over all the gory details: suffice it to say, on Dec. 1, I quit the job and headed out to follow my dream = to write that book I’ve wanted to do for years.

I’d developed an agreement with myself that I could have six gloriously free months to research and write the book. I’d do a two-week trip to Key West in December for all the research to be done. By January, I’d have it outlined. By February I’d be done with Chapter 2. By May my first draft would be done.

Given that planning it out in my professional career before had usually, mostly, WORKED, I had no reason to think this would go any differently.

Dude, Dudette. DogGod... whatever works for your "higher power"

Dude, Dudette. DogGod… whatever works for your “higher power”

But the dude (or dudette or DogGod or Pluto- whatever you need you believe. Just make sure you read What Questions a Dog would Ask God) upstairs has one heck of a sense of humor. As so often happens when things are set up PERFECTLY, the plan hit the bottom of the ravine all too quickly. My dream of spending day after day writing, editing, researching – thoroughly embedded in the work of my story — slowly slipped away as, week after week, I either caught an infection or had some new symptom develop that essentially wiped out my ability to do much of anything useful.

It started in the middle of Paradise on my maiden voyage, just two weeks into this grand new life. I was struck: a bacterial infection that sent my insides scrambling and left me with a prescription for two heavy-duty antibiotics. I avoided the hospital this time, but not without suffering through a few weeks of side effects. Then, at the tail end of that debacle came the flu. Happy New Year. Followed by a cold. Then another. Then a virus that refused to go away. Then another cold. Ad nauseam, for two months. As if that wasn’t enough, in January my hands pretty much stopped working, and I couldn’t actually perform the function of writing for any longer than 10 minutes.

I was a pirate in paradise when it all went down...

I was a pirate in paradise when it all went down…

For a newly-minted, newly-proclaimed writer, this loss of use of hands was the cruelest. It sent me howling into my journal (a new daily practice I mostly do, seeming only apropos that if I’m to be a writer I should write something each day, even if it’s only dribbling thoughts). I read back through those entries the other day and admit, here, fully – It was entirely whining. Like with a capital W. In retrospect, some WINE might have helped that situation- but I don’t do that anymore (another story).

It didn’t help that each time I’d have a day or two of feeling better, of being nearly normal, and then I’d feel some signal of the start of yet another virus. My Whining reached fevered pitch, along with my visits to various doctors and specialists. I may have even shook  my fists in the air at God- which at the least did make me, and the hubster, laugh.

 While I am back to pre-December production, energy level and doing-ness, it turns out there are in fact reasons this has all been happening – an immune dysfunction that doctors usually treat only when the patient is symptomatic and/or under duress. And I am fast hurtling towards a Fibromyalgia diagnosis, which is where they put you when you have all these THINGS, but no known underlying already-defined disease. Never mind that I don’t have either one of the main hallmark of the disorder (all-over pain). Truth is, this isn’t the first time: Like many in my situation, I started having bouts of this after a 3-month virus in 2008, and in the past few years it has gotten worse. Last year I spent most of my time going to work and when I wasn’t doing that, sleeping. The on-and-off elevated pulse, the fingers and toes losing circulation, the extreme fatigue, and tingling hands were, my doctor told me, all due to stress. Blood tests backed this up. OK, so great, simple solution: quit said stressful job. So when it got WORSE at the beginning of this year, rather than better…. well hopefully you can empathize with why I was so flummoxed. Beside myself. OK: Angry. I was very angry and pitiful.

But like all things, it eventually wound down, the sickness and the Whining.

Because in the midst this storm that was sleeping, eating, feeling awful, battling medicinal side effects, not being able to comprehend the words I was reading let alone make NEW thoughts out of them, I remembered one very important thing: I was a pirate once.

topsail schooner wolf

Schooner Wolf

Albeit, I was a nice pirate, the kind that you run into on sailboats in very nice touristy places—but still, even there the pirate spirit exists. You take the girl off the ship, but you can’t take the pirate out of the girl. You can’t take away the rebellion, you can’t remove the desire to freedom, and you can’t get away from the pirate’s indomitable spirit to PROSPER against even the mightiest of uncontrollable forces. In fact, it is those very howling forces of fate that call a pirate to most BE. It is this spirit, after all, that attracts so many people to the idea of pirates – this the reason the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has done so well, that pirate festivals around the US have flourished (and been established even inland, like Kansas).

Yes, somewhere around about late January I got angry, full of fight. Somewhere around mid-February, I gave up. Perhaps not UP as much as IN: to the irrefutable truth that life so often seems to want to teach us: that despite the best-laid plans, you cannot control the actual outcome of the situation. My pirate self started, essentially, to howl into the wind. And now that the storm has abated (today marks one week entirely symptom free, two weeks since I could function normally again), I am beginning to do what so many REAL pirates before me have done when faced with a journey thwarted, a ship sunk: to begin again.

This marks the launch of a serial blog, one that will pull on bits and pieces from the book I am working on, will explore what makes a pirate, why we love pirates, and what it all has to do with business – and life. I know three people who will read it. And I’m happy with that. It’s practice, and it will remind me that I am a pirate at heart, as so many of us really, truly are. It all comes from my time aboard the Schooner Wolf, Key West’s official pirate flagship –often stories that don’t fit in the official book. The one time that knife-wielding customer boarded the evening sunset sail, for instance. Stories abound on a pirate ship. And I am just beginning to capture them.

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I am a recovering creative.

Truth be told, I am a recovering a lot of things. But that’s another blog. Ok, maybe a book since, after all, I’m getting up there in age.

I don’t mean recovering creative as in, “used to be and now seeking to not be.” I mean recovering as in, “becoming again.”

Just Say No(In case you think I am making up this creative recovery thing, I am not: it has a whole movement, a 12-step recovery process all its own, A.R.T.S Anonymous. As if artists really need help being any more anonymous: if you ask me, we need more light shined on how much work we are actually producing each day. It’s surprisingly easy to do work, without actually working on what you are supposed to be working on — this blog post being the perfect example.)

Each day I used to don the professional gear, commute 20 to 30 minutes, sit at my desk and begin the work of beginning to work. Each day was different, but the setting, the task, the GOAL, was the same: do lots of stuff to accomplish overall organizational goals, win friends, influence others and look smart while doing it!

And let me tell you, when it was working, it was HEADY stuff. When I was ON, the power was mine to wield, to make marvelous things happen for people, to make a DIFFERENCE. And I was good at my jobs – Good at getting money for the organizations I worked for; good at producing papers, newsletters, words that made people act; good at connecting people and making things happen.

But after 20 years, I was starting to run dry. The stress of not working on the words, the stories, the ideas in my head, was starting to show.

More importantly, I was starting to believe the headiness all that power of creation in the workplace created. I was starting to buy in. I started to want the fancy Brooks Brothers suits; the nicer, new car; the Washington DC parties and high-end connections and the power of knowing the people running the Ultimate Power City. In short, I started to think it was real.

Thankfully, a few things happened that leveled out my progress down the Great Corporate Power Road:

  1. My first husband left me, suddenly and without word or communicationIPhone Laura 2015 239 thereafter, after clearing out all his clothes and our joint bank account;
  2. Bereft and broken, I started exploring the whys and hows of the world, and of me;
  3. When I slipped up and let my EGO pick a power-filled job again, I ended up In a position that made me realize, quickly, that no amount of work would actually mean I could achieve the very thing I was supposed to in said job.

Ultimately, it was the crushing of my EGO — the painful tearing away of expectations, assumptions and successes — that got me out of that mess.

And so here I sit today: STRESS-less and Corporate-America-Shine-and-Dine-Big-JOB-less. Entirely for the better.

Except.

Each day I write and work on my active creative recovery for an hour, sometimes up to three. I am supposed to “play” several times during the week – and do lots of reading, not necessarily related to the book I am working on. I am supposed to work at creative things that don’t necessarily produce anything, and aren’t meant to. After I write, I head to the desk to tackle my actual creative work: Research, writing, planning. Usually for all of four hours, which is about what I have left after all that. I have yet to produce any new words for my book, and I’m only 10% done with my research. I alternate between feelings of despair, hopelessness and loneliness, and ever-soaring elation, freedom and the feeling that I have finally landed IN myself. Which, it turns out, is exactly what folks tend to feel in addiction recovery programs.

Addiction, at its core, is all about when individuals start thinking/believing and/or trying to BE God. For many of us, that’s exactly what work becomes. When you’re working, hard, every day, and making things happen, and bringing in more money each year, and hearing great things about yourself from all loads of people – well, it becomes easy to believe all that. And, you start to want to hear it more often. Until just one is no longer enough.

Our culture is set up to support accomplishment, great productions – money and things included. I’m starting to think that, in fact, our nation’s founders had tendencies towards bi-polar disorder that made them want to strike off across the ocean to unknown land to begin with – let alone settle remote outposts surrounded by woods and wilds. That certainly explains the Salem Witch Trials  to me a whole heck of a lot better than religious zealotry. Ok, so maybe it’s an equally-weighted thing.

Either way, as with anything that feels good when you first do it, but then gets more guilt-laden than celebratory, where the repercussions start outweighing the benefits, and where one is just not enough (job, shift, one more hour or one more digit increase to the salary), eventually, if work is your addiction, you hit the proverbial bottom.

Increasingly, we Americans are hitting that bottom – even as countless stories, research projects and pundits caution us that happiness does not lie in great works, money, things or more hours working. You analytical types can see the proof by reading Stanford University’s “The Relationship Between Hours Worked and Productivity,” or by watching the Ted Talk Video, “Flow: the Secret of Happiness.”  Or read up on the work of social scientists who discovered a few years ago that people who make $75k or more may feel better in general about life, but not in day-to-day, overall emotional well-being – and that, in fact, that daily happiness ratio decreases the more a person makes above that mark.

It’s just not hard to find the studies and scholarly articles that prove we Americans are working more, achieving less and being more miserable doing it.

The challenge is, of course, recovering in a society that is largely addicted to the power of work – something that ultimately is more related to culture, which would take far more than a nationwide 12-step recovery program to address.

But if any of you creative, workaholic types out there feel like tackling that fix-it, have at it.

IPhone Laura 2015 199In the meantime, the best answer might be for us each, individually, to embark upon our own recovery – creative, spiritual, family or otherwise. At the end, it’s all about uncovering what it is that throws us off balance, tracking it down, excising it and then working on re-centering.

Maybe that’s the closest we really need to a New Year’s resolution.