Take a Nature Walk
Consider taking a Samhain nature walk as a meditative exercise and time to reflect upon Nature and your place in it. This is a time to regain perspective by fully being in the present moment. If you have loved ones buried at a nearby cemetery, consider visiting their graves, or stroll through and say hello to all the spirits, familiar or not. Cemeteries can be beautiful, peaceful places for reflection.
Build an Altar
If you’ve lost loved ones and are processing old or new grief, you consider building an altar on a table, dresser, bookshelf, or any other surface with photos and mementos belonging to the deceased. Light candles for those you’ve lost and then sit quietly with your memories. Inspiration may just visit you.
Commune with the Relatives
If an altar is too much, call an older family member with a good memory and ask to hear stories about your family’s heritage. You could take notes or just listen. Try having this conversation right before bed, then see which ancestors or images appear in your dreams.
Host a Samhain Dinner
If you’re really getting into the spirit of things, consider hosting a Samhain dinner, either just for you or with guests. Set a place for the dead at your table, or make offerings of the meal at the altar you built. Share a bite or a sip of everything with your intangible guests, then leave their share in a spot outside as an offering. If a whole dinner seems like too much work, find a Samhain potluck to join!
Remember that breaking out of your routine and pushing yourself beyond your immediate comfort zone can be inspiring and help you feel a sense of renewed possibility. This Samhain, I call upon you to do something unexpected, something out of character, and to push your creative work in the same direction.
What a harpy of a question, one which plagues those of us in creative fields. It arises from—and is fueled by—our insecurities, our doubts, our anxiety about poor time management. Every time we opt to go out for that office happy hour instead of heading to the studio, or reach for the remote, there it is again: the question that, by its very nature, suggests our choice in that moment elucidates exactly why we lack success: we aren’t committed enough, we aren’t driven enough. We aren’t enough.
What if the question itself is flawed? What if we restructured it, gave it a facelift? Then it might look something like: How are you a successful artist? A question that would push us to identify the ways in which we have already achieved recognition or satisfaction as creatives.
This leads to a larger discussion of what defines “success.” In our society, success is viewed in terms of wealth and status. A high-status job often pays well, so one thing leads to another, just as people privileged by wealth are more likely to maintain high social status. The why and how of the devaluation of the arts in our culture is a whole other subject. In any case, each of us has the chance to define what success means to us personally. The fact that artistic work does not tend to be well-paid is unfortunate and unfair, but also an opportunity to redefine achievement beyond dollars and cents. After all, whether valued at zero dollars or a million, the actual art is exactly the same. The only thing that shifts is the perspective.
So, what if you began to think of your art as “worth a million bucks?” In other words, what if your talent and creativity became a worthwhile pursuit? A worthy investment of your time and energy? Perhaps you already have this feeling but haven’t been able to act on it. I’m just too lazy, you tell yourself. I’m not driven enough, not like those other, more successful people over there posting photos on Instagram of their gallery openings and book launch parties. (Guess what? Those photos demonstrate that the objects of your envy have become successful at using social media as a promotional tool for marketing. Good on them).
The thing stopping you from investing in your art, from producing work to sharing it or marketing it, is not laziness. It’s not a lack of discipline, though of course discipline can help, or poor time management. It’s fear.
After working for years with creative students who struggled to complete their work on time, who consistently fell short of the credits needed to graduate, who stayed in bed rather than face a critique, I realized that their problem wasn’t just about time management. The biggest blocker was a fear of not being good enough, of disappointing teachers, parents, peers, and themselves through inadequacy and mediocrity. They would spend hours and hours on work that was “never finished,” meaning it wasn’t yet perfect, and would absorb the impact of a zero for showing no work at all rather than make themselves vulnerable, reveal the “unfinished” work they’d poured their heart and soul into, and risk rejection and criticism. Sound familiar?
Here’s the thing: an artist’s work is never “done.” You will always find things in your work you’d like to change or even blot out completely, and I don’t just mean typos. Growth, by nature, means continual movement. If your work always pleases you to the point that you think you cannot do any better, then how are you growing and changing? It’s like expecting your baby shoes to still fit. Do you want your feet to stay that small?
There will always be expectations surrounding you that put pressure on you to live a certain way, be a certain kind of person. It comes from your (sometimes) well-intentioned parents and teachers and it’s writ large in our culture, broadcasted constantly and reinforced by the public image of The Artist. You live in that shadow. You feel you will never get out of it and all your innermost fears about yourself feed that anxiety.
But you can get past your fear. You don’t have to be governed by insecurity. You just need the right tools: a support system, a plan, and a new perspective. A creative coach can help you get there.
In redefining your metrics for success, you acknowledge you may not win a MacArthur or a Nobel Prize or a Guggenheim. Those are external forces beyond your control and tying your sense of worth to recognition will choke you. Instead, you can be fully yourself, the most “you” you’ve ever been, which includes the creativity you bring to the world. To do that is already a success. So when the harpy of self-doubting questions comes by, you can tell it to f*ck right off.
Want to know more? Contact me.
It’s become chic to have a nemesis, or nemeses. Well-known writer Roxane Gay’s frequent—but tantalizingly anonymous—tweets about her nemeses have fans and Twitter allies following her rivalries like it’s “Downton Abbey.” (Monica Lewinsky went as far as to dress up as one of Gay’s nemeses for Halloween). This has sparked a trend of nemesis-related commentary and confessions on social media.
This is a pretty different kind of nemesis than the one I’m familiar with, which is rooted not just in rivalry, but payback. The word “nemesis” comes from 16th century Greek, meaning literally “retribution,” from nemein—“give what is due.” Yet Gay’s nemeses don’t even know they are objects of her ire and, in fact, just might not even know who she is.
The currently popular version of a nemesis isn’t the Potter vs Voldemort kind of relationship where both sides are aware of each other and believe retribution is owed. It’s more like Ahab vs the whale, where one party is investing a lot of energy and the other is, uh, a whale: unattainable, untouchable, coasting through the depths, oblivious to the enemy floundering in a little boat on the surface.
In my practice as a creative coach, I teach clients that envy is destructive. Rather than pushing you to work harder, as The Atlantic posits, being envious of a creative who has something you want suggests that their having of it deprives you, as if success is a non-renewable resource. It’s more productive to be encouraged by others’ success—if they did it, so can you!—than to put pressure on yourself to compete against another artist. We should foster a community of support and collaboration in the arts. Goddess knows, it’s hard enough to be a creative as it is.
Secondly, it’s a misuse of your passion. The flush of rage and want you feel when you look at someone else proclaiming their success on social media diverts energy from your craft and sends it towards the screen, where it bounces back, like feng shui gone wrong, and disappears. This experience encourages you to focus only on the outcome of work you produce, rather than the value of producing it. Remember the act of creation is different from the business of selling art.
Of course, social media is designed to fuel destructive envy. So maybe avoid or limit your exposure to social media if you find yourself feeling that sick-to-your-stomach sensation of toxic envy every time you scroll through your Insta feed. Mute your rivals and focus on pictures of adorable owls in hats instead. It might be fun and productive to even create a piece inspired by or in honor of your nemesis, allowing a chance for deeper reflection about the nuance of expectation and competition that goes into the feeling of envy in the first place.
And that’s just it, envy is only a feeling, or a composite of them: desire, frustration, disappointment, anger, jealousy. It’s natural and sometimes unavoidable and no one is beyond it, including public figures we admire, which is perhaps the most positive aspect of someone as well-renowned and respected as Roxane Gay openly discussing her envy.
It’s trendy to have a rival, but it’s healthier and more productive to have a role model or a collaborator. If gazing at someone else’s trophies and great skin makes you feel like crap, turn the gaze inward. Don’t waste the drive fueling that envy on someone else who doesn’t even know you’re watching.