Friday, January 29, 2016

Make Every Day a Vacation

2015 was so travel-filled for me that I'm actually looking forward to staying home as much as possible this year. There are dozens of fun things to do in here in Albuquerque and never enough hours in the day (or night) to fit them all in. But as much as I love seeking out new museum displays, creative groups, or shops and restaurants, it can also be too easy to to become complacent and take them for granted. This year I want to change that.

One of the things I was most aware of while I was traveling was how different everything felt to me--from the air I breathed to the way the light struck a windowpane, and how quickly I stopped noticing those little nuances once I was back home. Around Christmas-time I was desperate to know why that was. 

Beyond the obvious answers such as, "Well, you don't have to wash the windows when you're on vacation," or, "Each day abroad is a chance to re-invent yourself," I realized that when I travel I put a lot more effort into what I can only call mindfulness, probably because I know it might be my only chance to experience that particular travel destination ever again.

So my major question for the year is: How can I cultivate that same travel mindset here at home and not just when I'm riding a tour bus? How can I make every day a vacation day? To get the ball rolling, I made a list while I was writing out some morning pages and here's what I came up with.

Have afternoon tea. One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to have afternoon tea either in a tea shop or right in my hotel room. I especially like trying out different flavors and brands that are foreign to me. Lesson learned: relax, savor, and enjoy some new tea brands (yay, oolong . . .).

Get up early, even when I don't have to. When I travel, I can't wait to get up and get out the door. All those places to see! Here at home, struggling to wake up before it's entirely necessary can be torture, especially in the winter. Then I remembered how much I love those fancy little shampoos and body washes the hotels provide. Stocking my bathroom shelves with spa toiletries has made my mornings a lot easier to face and far more luxurious--just like when I'm on vacation.

Sketch, sketch, sketch. Take photos. Of anything and everything. Sketching and photographing my surroundings lets me to see the world with new eyes--even the places I already know. Having a sketch plan or goal before I leave the house each day reminds me to take the time to look.

It's okay to draw like a little kid. When I sketch in my travel journal, I don't care how it turns out. I'm just going for first impressions and ways to capture the memories. The same applies to my daily journal entries. It's a viewpoint that cuts out the angst and makes creativity a joy to pursue and express.

Love the day without expectations. It's impossible to know in advance what you'll encounter in another country outside your own, yet, somehow, that never seems to matter. As far as I'm concerned, if it's a vacation, it's all good--exactly how I want to experience my day wherever I am.

Trust I am being taken care of. Goal: Give up daily worry, anxiety, everything negative that keeps me fretting and wastes my energy. The bus driver knows where we're going--so let him drive. My one and only job is to enjoy the view.

Eat well, eat small. Thanks to my vegetarian lifestyle, it isn't as easy as it should be to find a wide array of food choices when I'm on the road. And that is probably a good thing--less chance of stomach upsets, less chance of over-eating, and less chance to spend/waste money on not-so-great meals. This year I want to stay more conscious of only eating when I truly need to, rather than because "it's so yummy I can't resist and I don't care about stupid old calories." 

Walk more. Walking in Albuquerque (at least for me) isn't always a great idea: lots of traffic (and drivers who run red lights), broken and uneven sidewalks and streets with potholes, and the neighborhood shops aren't close enough to home to bring back groceries, etc. on foot. What we do have to counter that, though, are beautiful parks, open-air shopping malls, and a number of museums worth visiting throughout the year. It's no problem to drive to these places and then go for a good long walk once I'm there--with my sketchbook in hand. A wonderful way to stay in a holiday mood.

Travel light. I've always been a big fan of down-sizing, minimizing, and de-cluttering, but even when I think I've done my best, sure enough I find something more to give away, toss out altogether, or purchase yet another storage bin for. This year I am going to put a lot of thought into what I buy, asking myself: will it fit into my suitcase (i.e., my house/life) and how heavy will it be? And do I really need it? The answer, just like when I dithered over purchasing an entire set of Portuguese tiles last year, will probably be "no." And that's fine with me.

Tip of the Day: Whenever I travel I like to immerse myself in learning about the history, the food, the art, the entertainment, and of course, the people of each new place. One way to make every day a vacation is to do the same in my own backyard. A concentrated "course of study" about subjects as diverse as New Mexico's santos or native plants will go a long way to make being at home more interesting to me. I'm sure you'll find just as many fascinating topics in your own home town!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Why I Love Writing (and Drawing) in Cafes

This past weekend found me in two cafes: Saturday drawing and painting in the Albuquerque History Museum cafe, and Sunday writing with my writer's group in a bookstore coffee shop. Bliss! 

Ever since I first read Natalie Goldberg's advice in Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind about writing in cafes, I've been hooked on following her example. I can't think of a better environment than a cozy--and often noisy--cafe to help writers and artists at all levels relax, focus, and get some work done all at the same time. It's a practice I've been following for years, and one I've come to rely upon to get me out of the house and filling the blank page. 

Some of my top reasons for choosing cafes over, say, the library or the laundromat as a makeshift office/studio include:

1. As the old saying goes, a change is as good as a rest. And the cafe scene is always changing.

2. Someone else makes the coffee.

3. You have instant “material.” All those strange people sitting around chatting, arguing, reading, slurping . . .

4. You get used to writing with distractions and even a certain amount of discomfort. Great for learning to switch off from the "real world" and concentrate on the project at hand.

5. Discipline. You’ve made the effort to travel all this way, so stay there!

6. Ritual. Same place + same time = familiar and comforting routine.

7. Writing by hand is good for the heart and soul.

8. Or if you prefer, plug in. Many cafes have free WiFi, great for the budget-conscious.

9. If you're close enough to a local cafe, you can walk there. An excellent workout!

10. You can buy yourself a treat for “good behavior” and pages written. (And it doesn't have to be cake. If you're in a bookstore, museum, or gift shop cafe, how about a new book, magazine, pen, or journal?)

11. You have the opportunity to hold meetings with other artists and writers without using--or cleaning--your house.

12. Busily working away in your journal or sketchbook in public sends the message that you are a Professional, helping you to be exactly what you want to be.

Tip of the Day: Writing or drawing surrounded by a crowd can sometimes be daunting. To overcome any shyness or self-consciousness you may feel, especially if you're a newbie to cafe creativity, try sitting with your back to the wall. That way no one can easily look over your shoulder--something people love to do when you're sketching. (It's taken me a long time to simply smile and keep going whenever that happens. And believe me, they soon get bored and leave.) Another tip is to use a journal or sketchbook with a firm fold-over cover so you can write or draw while the book is propped on your lap rather than on the table, a good way to maintain your privacy and confidence. Latte, anyone?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Happy 2016 Goal-Setting

Every year I like to set my goals--not so much to make the year into a non-stop homework assignment, but more to clarify where I want to go and how I want to get there. This year I have five:

1. Keep submitting the novel (The Abyssal Plain) I finished editing last year. Which means: making serious submission lists, staying tuned-in to what's happening in the publishing world, not being defeated by rejection, and just going for it. Yes.

2. Finish the edits on my new novel, Ghazal, and have it submission-ready by the end of the year. I'm really looking forward to this particular task because I particularly love this manuscript. It's based on the theme of "Thirty Doors, Thirty Stories" and one of the things I'm planning to do as a spin-off goal is to create thirty mixed-media illustrations to go with the manuscript. (People with long memories might recall that one of my 2015 goals was to paint and draw scenes of doorways, something that fits my current WIP perfectly and still maintains my interest.)

3. Write short stories. Initially my goal was to "write one short story a week." My goodness, only one? Not . . . three? I don't know who thinks up these things, but after failing to write any short stories during the first two weeks of the year, I thought this imperative was somewhat draconian. To save my sanity and accomplish my other goals, I just plan to write short stories--when I can--rather than embark upon another novel this year. (Whew, that feels better.)

4. Go for the A-Z Blogging Challenge again. This will be my second year participating and another good reason to not fill up my calendar with "must write" short stories. The challenge involves blogging every day except for Sundays during the month of April, each blog post based on a topic starting with A and working through to Z. I enjoyed my first outing with the A-Z'ers and can't wait to see what kinds of new blogs I'll discover this year.

5. Work through my art instruction books one exercise at a time as if I were in a class. After my last bookshelf purge, I was interested to see that the majority of books I kept in any single subject were all my art instruction books. I love them, but I have to admit to not always using them. Too often I just look at the pictures and/or do only the intermediate lessons. I read the beginner's lesson and think, "Oh, that's boring. I don't need to learn about color mixing or how to make pages and pages of pencil marks for practice." This is always followed by then going to the advanced lesson and reeling when I see how complicated it is, my usual thoughts being, "I could never do that!"

This year that's all gonna change. I'm going to tackle one book at a time rather than diving into all of them at once (another bad habit), and do the exercises in order: beginner, intermediate, advanced. If I have to be bored painting circles, or do the advanced lesson on how to draw the perfect sleigh horse with shiny little bells in its mane (yes, this is a real lesson in one of my books) twenty times to get it right, so be it. I might end up having to stay with just one book for the entire year, but it's the only way I'm going to progress with my art skills and justify why I'm keeping those books.

So that's me. How about you?

Tip of the Day: Find a group of supportive listeners and goal-setters to help you brainstorm and solidify ideas for 2016. Before writing this post, I met with my writer's group specifically to discuss our goals for the year. It was a wonderful and inspiring meeting that encouraged me to a) have some goals, and, b) go gentle on myself. I was also able to pick up some fresh approaches on how to tackle the various projects, things such as adding more meditation and "quiet time" to my day, or venturing out into new selling opportunities. Best of all, I didn't feel alone in my quest to make my year something special. Thanks, group, and good luck with your own goals!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

2016! Start the Year with "What, Why, How"

Sweet little monkey
I met in Taiwan. (One of the "well-behaved" ones.)

Happy New Year and Happy Year of the Monkey! (I knew all those monkey pics I took in Taiwan would come in handy one day.) I particularly like the shot of this little one looking so pensive and sweet (or that's what I tell myself. For all I know he's just plotting how to jump down and bite his next victim. . . .)
But back to the positive side of things, and to get the year off to a great start, today I'm guest blogging over at Linda K. Sienkiewicz's website. Linda kindly asked me a few weeks ago to participate in her ongoing series of interviews on creativity categorized under the heading "What, Why, How." You can read my entry here.

Thank you so much for the invitation, Linda. It was a fun exercise. Hope to see you all there!

Tip of the Day: How would you reply to the big questions for 2016 of What? How? Why? Setting aside some time to write down your answers could provide some valuable insights and new directions for the year.