This painting by Mark Rothko is how I can feel these days.
Honestly, it is difficult to write this like a cheerleader supporting the team, when cheerleader and team are all sick and tired of the world spinning out of control. Not to mention half the team and cheerleading squad has tested positive…figuratively speaking…It’s rough for all right now, including us, and anything positive I am hoping to share has been a struggle, if not a difficult journey to muster up and fully believe in.
Its hard to remember that I have a creative mind and “make things” when the world is bottled up. It’s easy to get caught up and share the same anxieties everyone else has and lose control of my emotions. I fight with these mental pressures daily, and some days I lose. But I am learning from each moment how to course correct, pick up the pieces and rebuild. From this pandemic, bad news ensued that left me struggling for many days to make sense of it. When that new hit, I had no more focus than anyone else in this situation.
To put things in perspective, one of the jobs I finished within inches of this pandemic is not going to pay me for the 4 months of hard work I did. Tens of thousands of dollars are not going to be paid out. The company has gone dark, and they do not answer to emails. What am I supposed to do about this? This was stability money, ensuring us months of rent and bills paid. At this point, unless I am made of lawyers and lots of money, neither of which I have, I have to let it go.
And like dominoes falling, another job had(s) not returned any messages as to when checks will be sent out. It wasn’t quite as much, but it was still security; security that has for the moment dried up. My usual MO is to freak out about it, but I have to let it go or it’ll eat me up.
I do not easily let things like this go. This has happened to us before, which is why I think I am doing okay with it this time. Well, I am not okay with it, but I am managing my head about it much better than the first time this happened to us. Back then, when I wanted to go on a yelling spree sharing with the world what horrible people those who had wronged us were and wanted to shred them to pieces. This time should be no different, however, I can’t seem to find the energy to do it. And like some of you who have also had this happen, this time we are in a tricky position and have nothing that we can do about it, at least not at the moment.
Okay, so with that said, how am I here writing this half sane blog post and remain composed enough not to add expletives to the end of, between each word of, and starting every sentence with, in my post? Without this back story, the following might come across as some kind of self help bullshit that I am passing along in a second hand fashion sort of way. I’m just as entrenched as the rest of us.
Times are tough, and none of us are immune to it. Some of us might have it better than others, but none of us are immune to the mental madness we are dealing with, from the bigger issues of how to pay a bill, to the issues we never dealt with before, like where and how to scrounge up something that resembles toilet paper to get by, or worse, not getting paid at all.
How am I keeping my cool? The simple answer is: I have no choice. The more complex answer is: everyday I have to remind myself through a few steps that, I have no choice. From the beginning of the day to the end, I have to find ways to keep myself in that special space or I might go into anxiety mode and completely lose it. Here are a few things I do that I might suggest to you to try. They have so far helped to silence my emotional head space and helped me remember that a creative mind can solve problems while a scrambled brain can lead to no good.
The Phone Game: Hit save – As much as I can try to tell you that you should not look at your phone when you first wake up or for most of the day, the creatures of habit that we are will not allow some of us the chance to try. I have now tried many things from leaving my phone in my studio overnight to forgetting to recharge it so in the morning it is dead. None of these keep me from looking at the thing, and more likely they just aggravated me in the morning when I had to find or charge the damned thing.
Instead, here is something you can do that I have done: for each news article that you feel compelled to read, give yourself the luxury of only reading the title, then hit document save, and store it away for a rainy day. It is news, it has some relevance somewhere in the day, none of which I can control. Therefore, rather than getting angry and/or flustered about anything related to this topic, I am going to save this for when I have much self-control and can rationalize information rather than react. When we first wake up, we vulnerable, we are semi rational, and we want routine. Treat yourself to that routine by clipping the inevitable before it paralyzes the rest of your day.
Brain Soothing Sounds at 528 Hz – listen to something soothing that you can dip your ears into and cleanse the mental palette, this coming from me who has to build a new music list every other day. I listen to everything, but really like me some good fast adrenaline pumping sounds to keep me moving. I amp up on adventurous sounds and complex rhythms. I rarely stay in the same music space for too long, I get bored quickly and need something new and inspiring.
But lately I have found that most of the music I once really loved is not appropriate for these times. Most music currently feels like a cheap distraction that doesn’t make much sense for the moment. But I still need to hear music, and that is where the meditation music has come in very handy and helpful. I also find that Headphones are ideal for this.
Similar to using upbeat music to help inspire and charge the mental state before something physical like going for a run, I use this music to prep my system towards a better day by listening to something that can calm the mind. If you have not listened to it before, meditation music is much like ambient sound, whispers of upbeat tones, lacking any clear beat or pulse that can excite the mind. Rhythm churns the mind; these tones calm it. Think of it like 80’s Sci-Fi music but tuned to meditative frequencies, literally, frequencies that have been proven to induce calm within.
I love soundtracks so getting into this music was not an issue for me. I have it on my ears most of the day these days, finding that just one song suffices for so many psychological needs, and unlike drugs that can calm the mind and sweep one away, these frequencies and tones, calm the mind, align the gears, and set them into motion. I feel energized and creatively sharp when I can get myself into this head-space.
Idea Direction 1: Searching for Solutions -While in this clear mental space, I reread those headlines from the articles I saved over again in my mind, eliminate the ones for which I have no clear connection, and focus on the ones I can tap into and find something of use.
Here is how I program myself to get there:
FIND SOMETHING OF USE – What I program the mind to do while in a calm head space – the artistic skills I have developed are a useful set of tools for pictorial communication – how do these skills apply to the above headlines? The artistic skills I have acquired help me to extract useful and meaningful ideas from the unknown. I remind myself of these simple concepts, and begin the search.
I have three categories of conceptualization: Practical, Communicative, Pie-In-the-Sky Oh yeah, a fourth category is OUTLANDISH.
The Practical Category are ideas that can be put to immediate use, raise money for charities, for myself, etc. by running a Patreon, a Twitch or Facebook Live event, etc. and do your magic in front of an audience, auction the art, etc. Develop a new respirator by sketching out concepts focusing on real world practical materials and the possibilities of development in a real, salable way. Conceptualize and realize a series of images that can be sold as a series or individually, as posters, as banners, as a way of promoting and raising funds for x, y, z… conceptualize a digital interaction that can revolutionize the way business in the future can be handled, etc. yada yada yada
The Communicative category, or ideas that communicate are illustrations that are either emotionally driven, or, like editorial, speak a truth about our current affairs. These are ideas are possibly one offs, not a series, require a technique that coincides with the verbiage, might not require any representation to get the point across. These can be done quickly, and can be posted with rapid turnaround in hopes of others passing the message along.
Pie-In-The-Sky ideas are great ideas that require a budget, team, and leadership to assemble and distribute. These are great ideas that in the long run will help with bigger problems at hand, but unable to connect the logical dots together to make anything immediately happen with the current situation we are in.
Outlandish ideas are just absurdities and spoofs on the current state of affairs that can sometimes lead to some pretty good gag drawings or meaningful ideas from the generation of bad ones. Don’t discredit this category, as sometimes gold can be found in these here hills I tellz ya!
Write out, or sketch out your concepts while in this state of mind, forget that you can or cannot draw them well, or otherwise, and give yourself the freedom to output at whatever frequency, in whatever way you feel safe in doing it. Categorize the idea, and either act on it, laugh about it, or store it away for a later use when you can respectively find the funding to facilitate the concept into a plausible reality.
With that done early on in the morning, the rest of the day is ahead and plenty of extra time to develop these ideas. By acting upon them, they do not remain fanciful thoughts that fade by the end of the day. As well, time goes by unnoticed as you preoccupy your mind with these new ideas that are shaping into focus. This is time well spent if you can get yourself to act upon your ideas and not just blow them off or cast doubt over them. In hindsight, what this is actually doing is training you to engage in your thoughts and take what you think up more seriously. This process also helps you complete personal tasks and goals, which in turn makes you a more productive and reactionary artist. There is more to personally gain than just another idea that ends up in the pile: but a glorious pile it is shaping into.
How do I keep myself engaged in something that may or might not work? The question of the day, eh? Before this darkness fell upon us, remember when you had an idea, and for no reason other than that you had it, you acted upon it. Before too long you had something before you that you could call a “prototype”, or quite possibly the “seed” to something much bigger than you could have ever imagined? Once you tap back in to that core, you will know the answer to how you should stay focused.
Idea Direction 2: Personal Projects – If you can muster up the energy for this one, it is more rewarding than any big-league company that you could ever hope to work for. This one is for those of you who work for a studio or major corporation as an artist or art director. Forget about your former you, redevelop the new you with the love and desire to do your own project-and own it!
We are caught in the golden handcuff with our 9-5 (9-midnight if you work in gaming, film, or animation). We get paid well to do the thing we set out to do in our lives, make art. Only, at the end of the day the problems unsolved go home with us until the project is finished, which leaves no personal time. By the end of the day, we have exhausted all resources that would be used for personal work, putting it on an indefinite leave of absence. Sound at all familiar???
Take what time you can and put it to use building this new product of yours, and let go of any old discrepancies that you put up preventing you from going there back when the idea was hatched but not pursued, and let the new you develop that idea with your newly polished skill sets that were trained and seasoned in the industry. At this moment, you have a window of opportunity to do this if you haven’t already started. This is the time for you to find your voice if you had not felt strongly about it before. This is the time to find a new path, a new adventure, and lose yourself into it. The time is well spent, both for the product, and for you. It’s a much safer place to venture, one guaranteed healthy and free of politicians or viruses.
If you struggle to put all your effort into one thing for the moment, then take this time to build out as many ideas as you can, listing everything you can about them before moving on to the next. Work might be right around the corner and all these ideas will then again be put on the shelf, but the next time around you will have something tangible that you can add to and continue to grow, instead of wish and hope that one day maybe you might be able to try to….
Find the time to vent and purge the negative – During the day, find times that are practical to vent, and vent you must. We all must vent. Write, speak, or exercise it out of the system, but vent. DO NOT DO IT THROUGHOUT THE DAY OR YOU WILL GO MAD! Partition your day like a work day and be tactical about how you dive in and out of emotional battles. If news is what you need but news can shut you down, save it for a safe time block. Do not intervene with breaks of news throughout the day or suffer from total daily paralysis.
If we cannot purge this insanity from our systems, we will tear our insides apart and our day will be spent in panic and meltdown mode. Vanessa and I talk about things at meals, then we venture off back to our creative corners. We don’t go too far with any topic, but sorta purge them all at once together and eat food. The cats at the table certainly help, great mediators that often contribute something special at just the right moment. They also know when to drop a joke and break up the routine.
In fact, I would be wrong in saying that I can do all of this on my own 100% of the time. I have a wonderful relationship with someone I completely trust, a pillar of strength in my life that I am blessed and honored to share, and that I can say without her I would probably have gone down a long time ago. I am charged with her strength and courage to endure.
Collective Creativity – Start a Facebook Group chat get together, round up your convention cronies and commiserate over a Skype session, find a few artist friends, set the cameras to art table or easel mode, and paint together online. Virtual togetherness is still togetherness and a place to share thoughts and concerns. But make sure the group knows the limits and boundaries of topics and discussions so there is no inconvenience or awkwardness for anyone involved. If it’s a circle of close friends, I think you’ll know how to set the limits anyway, just be sure to respect larger groups of people lesser known and infrequently visited.
You would be surprised at what human interaction can do for you, even if it is for a short period of time. It’s not just therapeutic for the moment, if gives us something to look forward to all week, it makes the rest of the week a little less difficult to get through when you know that on Tuesday evenings, or Friday afternoons you have this hang out session of like minded friends and/or family to connect with.
Feel the burn, sweat out the small stuff – We go walking for a short duration. This really helps to get the blood flowing again and to burn off any extra built up anxiety that might have been stored away deeper than we were looking. Any way you can do some kind of burn in the day it might be a good idea. Lift weights, do the ten-minute exercise challenge, jump on that old personal jogger trampoline that has been up against the closet wall for years and hasn’t yet ripped or lost a spring. Get the blood circulating.
Learn Something New to Add to What you Do – And I know I said this in the last post, but seriously consider skill building with whatever time you can find. Learning something new occupies a different part of the brain and can be a huge help in getting some of the clutter out of the head space for a short term. Things are going to be very different on the other end of all this, normal is not a word that will mean what we think by any stretch, and change is inevitable. Having a few extra skills under the belt is not at all a bad thing to consider at this point, and a little more flexibility in what you are willing to consider doing for a spell while the world works out the wrinkle that has tripped us up. You can read more about this here.
Some industries will come online before others can, where can your skills be used in a variety of situations? Prepare yourself for a better outcome and do not look at anything as dire and lost. Everything still sits below this layer of stagnation. It will take some new and inventive ways to spool up the world once again, maybe some of those will have been found by some of us if we sit and put our skills to use in a much bigger and more meaningful way. A creative mind has no limits, don’t undermine or limit yours by thinking you only draw or paint.
What have you found helps you get through the day and stay focused as a creative? Where are you channeling that creative potential during this time? How are you staying mentally sane and creatively inspired? Share with us your routine and any tricks or tips you have found that helps keep you focused. If they have helped you, I am sure they can help inspire others as well, and thank you for the experiences and advice you might provide. Until the storm parts…
Stay safe and mentally secure. And here’s a Bob Ross painting to make your day.
For me, the most grounding things have been..
Routine – setting one for myself that intentionally promotes balance. Know you need certain things on the regular to stay sane? Your routine needs to reflect that.
Getting outside. I know this isn’t available to everyone, but if it is, being outside for a little but of time regularly is really helpful. Experience the rhythm and timing of the natural world. Watch the earth continue to exist. It is soothing, especially when the human world makes it seem like EVERYTHING is falling apart.
And I’ll just stress the exercise thing too. Animals carry stress in their bodies and we can hold it there for years if we’re not careful. Run, do jumping jacks, yoga, whatever. I like to turn on some favorite music and dance until I’m sweaty & exhausted.
All of these are crucial in helping me stay sane and able to get through each day, even looking forward to the next. And inevitably, I get derailed sometimes, but with these in place, I can get myself back on track easier than I would be able to otherwise. I’m rooting for all of you. We can do this.
It is strange how the body falls apart when sitting for too long. It doesn’t feel like we are doing any harm other than the compression in the spine after a few hours. I totally agree with at least a run in place as a way to get the blood flowing again. We really were meant to move on those legs daily. Glad you are keeping yourself in a good head space. Be safe and thank you for writing in.
Seconding routine, exercise and journaling for sure. I also try to focus on what I can do instead of what I can’t, which means I have time to watch art tutorials, learn about art history, and watch movies with my parents. Also, being grateful that no one I know has gotten sick or died
I wonder how that journal will read in several years from now. I wonder how many of these journals will end up books or films. You definitely have the right idea with filling your time with educational content, wise choice. Learn that incredibly hard to learn stuff now…like a new code language, while the focus is still there. Stay safe and thank you for your feedback.
Another great post with some really inspiring ideas! Breaking down the conceptualization categories was very helpful, too.
I’m sorry to hear that the clients you mentioned have gone silent. Regardless of your professionalism, it’s a kick in the pants. You mentioned some of the outlets I like for venting (music and exercisel), but I also hope that all is not lost with those projects.
Avoiding news is the hardest part. The best I’ve managed is to avoid certain topics during times when I know I should be focused on other things. What’s helped me is starting the day by learning French. (That’s an asset here in Canada, and it could be skill-building.) Progress so far is minimal, and I still don’t know enough to chat with my wife in her first language. But it keeps me away from the rabbit-hole of the internet, so that’s a win.
Re: Music/Sounds: I keep meaning to try meditation for more than a day or two. Maybe finding some appropriate music would help. But for background sounds, I use this sound library for everything from natural to synthetic noise: https://mynoise.net/noiseMachines.php
I wonder if the frequencies line up with the ones you mentioned, or if they could be modified to fit that range.
Sorry to hear about the financial backlash of this Covid situation for you.
As for your post, after a 3 year illness, I find getting structured in my day to day doings help a lot to keep the mind at ease and in a state to be able to be creative. With that I mean I am actively putting down an agenda of what I plan on doing. Sometimes something else comes up, but that doesn’t matter.
The point is by putting down an agenda like this, I actually do get to work and avoid that horrible procastrination. Within the agenda, I also put in actual pauzes that are meant for other things, so I can actually let my mind come to rest. In the beginning I got this wrong quite a bit, but by keeping an agenda, you actually learn how to best fill it in. You get to learn what is a got tempo.
Anyway, I hope things get sorted out for you.
Thank you for writing and for the kind word. I agree with what you have written, even if daily they are not met, I totally agree with you about having a list of priorities, whatever they might be, and setting them for yourself as a short term “priorities”. If something is accomplished then fantastic, if not, you still have that list and do not feel like time is lost to nothingness. Some days it is just difficult to start the crawl, but they won’t all be that way.
Thank you again for the words of encouragement and please stay safe.
🙂 Thank you, stay safe and healthy.
I had a longer comment here, but… I guess it got blocked because the comment included a link? That’s the only thing I can think of. Oh well. The link was for a library that I go to when I need sounds that aren’t music. There’s a great mix of natural and synthetic sounds, but I’m not sure if the frequencies line up with the ones you mentioned.
Also, I’m sorry to hear that those clients have gone silent. The situation sounds like a kick in the pants, and one that would throw anyone for a loop. Even if you’ve made your peace with it, I hope that the work is recuperable, and somehow manages to turn out for the better.
I realize this reply is more than a few months after the original posting if this article, but I suppose that only means I was meant to find it when I really needed it. Back in April, I was still ok, still doing my thing, still happily making my own work even though conventions had started cancelling left and right. Even though cons are (were) 90% of my income, I was still ok. The enforced downtime from travel was actually welcome at the time.
Now, however, things are far from ok. Nearly an entire year without my primary source of income and no telling when (or even if) it will return, and an increasing spiral of uncertainty has led to a new level of depression that even creating my own work cannot pull me out of. In fact, I’m finding it nearly impossible to create right now.
I guess what I’m trying to say is thank you, Ron. I didn’t know I needed a cheerleader, but I’m glad I found this.
That’s so hard to stay productive during the things that going now in the world