As writers and artists, we have always valued our time alone to work on our latest creations. In fact, we often complain that there isn’t enough time in solitude to really get in the zone to work on our writing, music, or art.
My, how things have changed in the last few months.
When I first found myself without a brick and mortar school to be driving to on a daily basis, I thought that I would be absolutely sick of all the creating I was going to do in that “down” time. But the sudden void was filled with pandemic-related needs and concerns. I, like millions of others, had been displaced; our routines had been disrupted, if not destroyed.
It took a good three weeks for me to establish a different routine that was antithetical to any practice I had established over decades of teaching in a school building, and I started to rebuild a creative practice that is now a part of my new, still odd, daily routine. At least for the foreseeable future. I have found that solitude to write once again.
What this pandemic has created, though, is an equal demand for community. We are wrapping up an 11th week of isolation here in the United States, and we seek out moments shared in a creative commons, virtual or otherwise. We long to share our experiences, emotions, and works-in-progress with others. We also seek out support, even a tandem play period as we continue our work side by virtual side, separated not by the space between our chairs, but by the number of clicks and scrolls as we connect through technology.
What’s tough is establishing our work in that virtual art world as something entirely different from our daily Zooms, Meets, and digital connections that were hardly a part of our lives just three months ago.
Jodi, Adam, and I have been fortunate as this is all we have ever known as a Collective. I have never met either of them in real life. Through our own virtual community, we have published two novels (with more on the way), countless blog posts, challenges, and shared ideas in creativity and writing. But that was all done in a carefully constructed balance with our busy worlds.
As a result, even we have struggled to maintain that drive; the toll this 24/7 isolation is taking on all of us is deeper than we could have ever previously imagined.
Still, there is great value in understanding that, just like we found time in our busy, pre-pandemic schedules to create – write, draw, compose – we must define and separate our virtual time as creatives so that it holds a unique energy that we may accept for ourselves and lift up to others.
A few weeks ago, while giving a virtual book reading for a community literary group, I was so inspired by talking with, and learning from, other creatives. The experience continues to lift me today. What they offered me (and others) is that we’re all still creating, even from a distance. The energy is out there, and we need our communities to share that with each other.
This is what we hope our June Writeathon provides the creatives from all over the globe: a sense of community in a time where isolation and video chats consume our days and evenings. For the 20+ writers who have made the commitment to focus on their personal writing goals for these 30 days in June, we are excited to create – side by side – with you.
And, we encourage all of our readers and followers to take time for your creative selves each day. You will always have a community right here at The JAR.
We wish you the space and community to continue your creative expressions, both for you and for the world to cherish.
As we ease back into JAR blogging, and while uncertainty and profound change swirls around us in eddies, we have decided to explore the maxim: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.
Today, something old.
There is comfort in the old and I like that (even when I am always wanting to rush forth into the new or novel). I was reminded of that this week when it was finally cool enough to pull out my favourite jumper. But this isn’t an article about how much I love that jumper or how it drags up memories which have not been entirely laid to rest.
My “old” is two fold; both are forms of retreat.
The first is my poetry; a retreat in terms of space for daily moving meditation. My tools of quiet are scissors, glue, fragments of book text, cardboard, photos and a willingness to let go and allow poetry to form up through the text. This is where I can be most free and held at the same time. Where I can be true to myself but also in service to others.
Spark and Essence #19 Jodi Cleghorn 📸 Michael Rogers 📖 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
My second retreat is a formal commitment to silence and withdrawal. This has been a decision to delete my social media and messaging apps. I am in digital seclusion and I have not been more at peace in a long time.
Silence has extended to music, podcasts and recorded classes. There has been nothing but bird song and the intense symphony of multiple small children in my corner of suburbia and their emotional state in any given five-minute block.
Digital seclusion is a stillness, solitude, silence and simplicity I know well though it has been more than a year since I have retreated like this. I am not at all surprised to find myself here.
Spark and Essence #13 Jodi Cleghorn 📸 Chu Son 📖 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Both are old, but unlike my jumper, neither are worn or pulled out of shape, no matter how much time I spend in them.
Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief All kill for inspiration and sing about the grief.
So sang Bono in “The Fly,” the first single from the album Achtung Baby, an album which, in sound, was a radical departure from The Joshua Tree, the album that made them stratospheric rockstars. Both albums are brilliant in their own way.
I like the old for the anchor that it can serve in our lives. The old can be a sense of certainty, a foundation, a building block. The old can be the rituals and traditions of family, the liturgy and recitation of beliefs forming the locus for who we are and what we are. The old becomes the central tenets we adhere to.
The old is what we are an apprentice to. We learn from the old, the ancient, the wise who have travelled before us and said, “This is what I have found” in their voices of poetry, music, dance, philosophy, faith.
When we have learned enough to not be ignorant, but too little to be wise, we draw the anchor, relocate our position and fix ourselves to a new point to see how far we have travelled, or moved away from, in our own individual transformation and development, perhaps seeing those fixed points we used as our focal point in a different way. As another constellation to map our progress.
And in all this we return to the maxims and mantras of the masters, the proverbs and parables of the prophets, and understand them in a new way. It means returning to what was our first love, our awareness of what some would call vocation, or ministry, or calling, the idea that initially sparked our pilgrim’s progress.
I like tradition for the symbolism and meaning it conveys but I look for ways that the old can be communicated for the new, in order that I may point them back to the old. As a teacher, I teach not to draw attention to myself, but to help students focus on what has come before them, to help them understand how to create their own foundations.
Our lifetimes provide us with more moments and memories than we know what to do with. Sometimes, we hold on to the older moments that keep us prisoners to our past, where we allow regret or desperation to grip us in our present. They are tempting, though, aren’t they? They lull us into “what-ifs” that make us believe the past is still attainable.
It is not.
What we are afforded from our past, however, are moments of great strength that serve us in different ways now. For me, that’s time spent living in a cabin along the shores of Chesapeake Bay. Instead of letting the “what-ifs” grip me, I embrace the still-present smells of the cool brackish waters mingling with the clays of the ancient cliffs around me, the sounds of a low-flying heron looking for a sunrise snack, the feeling of cold grains of wet sand formed around my feet like customized, natural sandals protecting me from the pin-pricks of fossilized teeth, lost millions of years ago by the sharks that inhabited these waters.
When I first experienced these things 33 years ago, I savored them for the moments in which they were born, and sometimes with the people with whom I so graciously shared them; today, though, I cherish the tranquility and solitude they bring me in the most hectic of hours; they bring peace to a present that is often far from the days living in a hand-built cabin in southern Maryland.
From this that is old, I do not wallow in regret; I bask in the glow of experiences gained to sustain my balance, my peace, on this long journey that carries me decades beyond those first hours spent along the shores of Chesapeake Bay, where I pondered my own existence among the cliffs that held fossils millions and millions of years old.
We are gifted with what is old; we are lifted by what we take from it.
If you are anything like us, you are struggling in these days of despair and derailment to focus on giving your creative energy the time and space it is desperately demanding. We are, no doubt, out of alignment, and there has never been a greater call to pull our collective mindful acts together and allow our inner creativity to thrive.
We — Jodi, Adam, and Rus — are staying as close as we can in supporting each other’s creative efforts during quarantines and lockdowns as we work together throughout the world to stop its deadly spread. We, ourselves, are separated by continents, yet, our energies that we are pulling together are as strong as they have ever been.
It’s not easy, though, and we know many creatives are struggling out there to continue working on their writing, their music, their art, no matter what that might be.
We established this Collective to create a sacred space for the three of us to share our works, to challenge ourselves to take greater risks as artists, and to challenge other creatives across the globe to do the same. We took a break to focus on our own works as we did our best to manage through the challenges of domesticity.
In this time of our greatest crisis yet faced in our own lifetimes, however, we feel more empowered than ever to breathe new life into this sacred space, to share our focus in creating new works, and to encourage you to do the same.
Below, each of us shares two things: where we find ourselves in this unprecedented time, and what we are working on to keep our creative focus. In the comments below, we encourage you to do the same as well.
At this moment, we do not care what you are creating, and neither should you. For some of us, it might be an ongoing love letter to our children (even to the unborn) about what we are experiencing on a daily basis; for others, it might be a dystopian piece that captures how you are feeling at this moment. Still others might stray as far away from our current situation and create stories and poems of quiet summer evenings, of unrelated tales of horror, of stimulating erotica; all awaken the suppressed Svadhisthana chakra of creative and fertile energy that yearns to flow freely within and beyond you.
Beginning today, and every week hereafter, we are going to be offering encouraging challenges to you as we share the works we are creating. We must remain as close as possible, in any way imaginable, to pull us through. We all know that unfulfilled and stifled creativity can manifest dangerously into depression, anxiety, and even physical illness.
Here at the JAR Collective, we won’t allow that to happen to each other, and we won’t allow that to happen to you.
Join us, as we come together, and bind our creative energies in an irrefutable, strong force that manifests wellness for all.
I’m self employed, with a son who is homeschooled so not a lot has changed in one respect and everything has also changed. Our spoodle is one of the legions of internet hounds beside himself with joy to have all his humans home… especially my partner who will ‘work from the couch.’ I had signalled the March equinox as my return to work, after I was hospitalised in early January after a chronic health issue turned acute. While I took clients in the lead up to equinox to get my hand in and my confidence back up, I haven’t actually done client work since ‘officially’ returning to work. I haven’t quite found my centre yet, to be able to offer to hold that space for anyone else.
I am so aware of what I need, in terms of when I need to get up in the morning, the parts of my stillness practice which are non-negotiable for my mental health and general wellbeing. Yet as I flux in and out of great and horrific sleep, getting up at that magic 5am point is difficult. What my partner and I have been doing, is taking the dog down the road for coffee, and talking about what is going on in the world. We are very clear we do not want to talk about world events in our home; it is our sanctuary. I am also very clear about what brings me joy, comfort and pleasure, in small ways. Stopping to appreciate moments which would otherwise have passed unnoticed in different times.
My creative space has been anchored in the return of my daily poem project, The Daily Breath. It came down to the wire for me to decide to do it. Who the hell asks people to pay for art in a crisis, I asked myself when I was trying to decide what to do. People who know the power, the medicine and the comfort which art provides in times of high stress and uncertainty. It is all I am managing at the moment. Somehow time is moving faster than I am used to. Faster than I am able to fall into the flow of.
This too will change and I look forward to being immersed in words in thrive mode, rather than survive mode. I know what I am here to anchor in this time and words are only a part of it.
As a teacher, these are different times. We are navigating pedagogy and syllabi and curricula in different ways to meet the needs of our students, some of whom require extra attention and care. We are doing our best at remote learning (not homeschooling) and there are challenges and rewards. There is a sense of apprehension and uncertainty, and how we allow our students to discuss and process these emotions that will determine their resilience. And from it will come good work, and average work, and rushed work. The usual.
As students are susceptible and vulnerable to change, many creatives are keenly attuned to the undercurrents of society and attempting to make them visible and/or audible to the greater masses. And some creatives are unsettled by the situation so creative works are difficult.
I’ve turned to drawing as a grounding activity when I feel words are hard to come by. I began to create single line drawings just over a year ago when there was a tumultuous time of moving house in the first half of the year, and resigning from my old school to start at a new school in 2020.
A single line drawn; a continuous, unbroken line.
The pen invents the existence of the image from the blank space of the page, drawing the white into the pen to reveal the darkness of the solar system beneath. Conversely, the tabula rasa of sight is given vision through the pen, leaking the blackness of the imagination onto the page.
The line takes shape: straight paradoxes, curved obstructions, angular indices, folded waves, circular epiphanies. The brevity of a single line suggests, coaxes, entices or has the complexity of a woven tapestry to illuminate, postulate, seduce.
As it is with words.
Verb. Noun. Adjective. Preposition.
When connected together they expand, like the line, to form phrases and clauses. When arranged in single horizontal lines as sentences they give direction and purpose to the shape of the narrative.
Sentences with the lines of tailored couture bestow a resplendence of awareness.
Sentences with the sparseness of underpants and socks bestow a nakedness of understanding.
What are words but a single continuous line.
As a full-time teacher, serving at both the university and secondary levels, I find this time to be unsettling for both educators and our students. Everyone seems to be doing their best to navigate the right path forward. Fortunately, I have been teaching online at the university level for 10 years, so my focus is on supporting my secondary colleagues and students.
I have been home for 13 school days now, and much of my time is spent helping and supporting my other family members who are as directly affected by the shutdowns and quarantines. It’s what each of us should be doing: staying close, supporting one another, and clearing a path forward in these uncertain times.
I have preserved my creative space in two ways: delving into the world of watercolors, and working on a new piece of fiction, set in 1926 in Argentina. Both of these pursuits are beyond my comfort zone, and yet I find great solace in working on them, as they challenge me in a way that does not merely appease my uneasiness. That would be easy to do with creating and coloring Mandalas (which I still do). This new work in watercolors and writing allows me to get beyond appeasement; it is a surge in new energy that requires new thought, new courage, new focus.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way among other books on creativity, encourages individuals to make an “artist’s date” with yourself. We cannot think of a greater time to do this, with one caveat:
This date should be for no less than 90 minutes, and you must rid yourself of any expectation whatsoever to share your work. You can, if you like, later. But those 90 minutes must be sacred and personal, intimate and uninhibited. Abandon any worries about sharing; use this time to reconnect with your Svadhisthana energy.
As we approach each year, we reflect on what we have achieved, and forecast what we’d like to achieve.
Over here in the JAR Laboratory we’ve been thinking about how we can get the most out of creating in the Year of Hindsight: 2020.
Every creative person will have a different plan or path, reason or excuse, direction or wandering about how and what they are going to create.
We’ve put together our lists of 9 Ways To Get the Most Out Of Creating in 2020.
1. Commit to explore something you love.
In the same way you might commit to someone you love: get excited, make time, turn up, engage your curiosity, open your heart, and keep turning up. This doesn’t have to be massive investment of time. The smaller the time investment, the more powerful this becomes over time, because ultimately consistency matters. Aim to want to spend time doing this and the excitement will flow over into other aspects of your life.
2. Know WHY you create.
Then remain true to that regardless of what shiny things cross your path. Knowing your core values in regards to your creative expression and practise is an essential tool. This is good for the soul but it is also good business sense. Doing an inventory of your beliefs and personal narratives at the beginning of the year can be a way to know how aligned you are with where you want to go (because it may be different to last year!).
3. Create/schedule downtime.
Guard it with all your might and all your heart. This is time and space to check in with yourself and check out of reality; to slow down, dream, mentally meander; it is time to remember how to breathe and to remind yourself of what’s important. To get grounded and centered.
4. Care for yourself as the precious individual you are.
It is not selfish to put yourself first, especially when prioritising good health and wellness as a 360-degree experience. If something doesn’t feel right, treat it as something not right. Believe me, being sub-par physically makes creating more difficult than it needs to be.
5. Have something you want to achieve by the end of the year.
…and start now. Work out what you need to do to move yourself from here to there. Break it down into the smallest possible actionable pieces. Decide what resources you need. What support you require. Set it up–now! Test drive it for a few weeks before you begin, to allow space and time to trouble shoot and refine your process. Schedule with plenty of padding (add 3x the amount of time you think you will need–it is human nature to underestimate the time required). Find ways to stay accountable that inspire rather than shame. Find ways to stay excited.
6. Engage with inspirational people.
Those souls who expand your mind, your heart, your world view and bring sanity, stability or a deeper understanding to your experience. Ask questions. Make space for discussions. This doesn’t have to be other creatives. Inspiring people come from all walks of life, professional disciplines, backgrounds, traditions and experiences.
7. Build bridges.
Between different different parts of your creative life; between different parts of your overall life; with people you’d love to collaborate with. Introduce people you know who would love to get to know each other. Be willing to reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time. Initiate something especially when it would be easier to do nothing.
8. Tend your flame.
This is different for everyone but the essentials are similar. Tending requires focus, time, patience, persistence, maintenance, love, care and attention. Passionate people are the best antidote to apathy. Being passionate invites more of the same energy and people into your life. Sometimes they will come along to help tend the flame, when you’re struggling to do it.
9. Sync with natural cycles.
Why battle the tides? I can think of better ways to invest my energy than doing something the hard way. Jack Dann once told me: Give the best part of the day to your writing. Know what’s the best part of your day. Know how you can flow with the wax and wane of the moon. Know what moon signs are best for doing specific jobs. Find the dates of Mercury Retrograde (the best time for editing). Get to know the prevailing astrological forecast and use it (like you use the weather forecast to plan your day/week).
1. Limit your projects. Ideas are like seeds; some will grow and some will not. You need to tend and nurture the ideas you care about the most. Others are dandelions you can blow away on the breeze.
2. Measure your time.
It’s finite. It involves sacrifice. It involves commitment. Waste it when you want to and have planned to do so. Don’t waste time when you have planned to make it productive.
3. Listen to new music.
Or read new books. Buy a new comic book. (or make use of second hand stores and thrift shops – if it’s new to you, enjoy it).
4. Finish the fucker.
I’m not usually a swearing person but I liked the alliterative burst it gave because it’s also a kick in bum for me to make sure I keep forging ahead. Make it happen. If it takes a year, it takes a year. Plan your time to make sure you finish.
5. Walk around the house naked.
Be happy in your own skin literally and metaphorically. If you want to be a creative person, become a creative person. Don’t doubt it; own it.
6. Know your body’s cycles.
Rest if you need to. I know the times of the year when my work load makes creativity difficult to achieve. I can therefore plan around it. Those times of busyness may be times you allow yourself to be fallow and let the ground regenerate.
7. Support other artists.
Respond to their Instagram posts or blog feeds. Tell them why you like their work. Give them shout outs.
8. Blow words up.
Interrogate them. Exploit them. Cuddle next to them and spoon them. Be intimate. Very intimate. Draw your thoughts. Write explicit stories and destroy them. Aim to be included in the Bad Sex in Literature Awards.
9. Discuss your process with other creatives.
Find out how other creative people outside of your creative field operate. Learn new techniques. Work out how your process operates. Read about others’ experiences. It may not be compatible to yours but understand how to learn.
1. Write uninhibitedly.
Unless you are on deadline for some urgent piece that an editor’s nudging you to finish, write uninhibitedly for an audience of none. Discard worries about spelling, punctuation, grammar, tense, and anything else that nags at you. Just write whatever draft or entry that thrives undiscovered within you. No real rules, no real expectations; just write uninhibitedly.
2. Be one with your Daybook.
It doesn’t really matter if it is a 59-cent spiral notebook or a 30-dollar Moleskine journal; find a daybook that is the perfect fit. If you’re wondering what that feels like, you’ll get that feeling like Harry Potter had when he was paired with the wand that was made for him. You might like blank or lined pages; a spiral or flex binding; 5 x 8 or 9 x 12; or thin or thick paper. Perhaps you like to write with fountain pens and require a thicker paper; maybe you want to feel the ballpoint roll over the parchment sleek like silk.
Once you discover your one-of-a-kind daybook, keep it with you always, and chronicle your life in it, in all ways.
3. Create playlists.
I have a unique playlist for every story I write. I even have playlists just for daybooking. They unfailingly put me in the zone to write (uninhibitedly) that particular story, essay, or entry. Playlists can be as short as one song (“Eleanor Rigby” on repeat got me through the final edits on my MFA thesis) or 137 songs (as were my playlists for my last novel). Creating a playlist that insulates you as you write will put you in the zone instantly, making you more productive, as well as a better writer,
4. Find your Querencia.
This – Querencia – is your wanting-place, where you feel invincible. For some, this might mean a very physical, geographical location, like the beach, or even the outdoors; for others, it might mean wherever you are with your Daybook. As writers and creatives, we need to find that place where we can do the work stay focused. Nothing can touch you here. Find it. Preserve it. Believe in it.
5. Trust the process.
How can we ever fully understand what we have not yet created or written? As much as we might want to control the process, to map out our every word, we must trust the process to lead us from the undiscovered to the end product. We might believe that we have the whole story prewritten in our minds, but the process might lead us down a very different path. Trust the process. As Jodi reminds me all the time, the day you are writing is the day you were meant to write that story. So just trust the process.
6. Find your tribe.
I learned the hard way that there are some people who will actually sabotage you and your writing for selfish reasons. You need to find your small tribe of creatives that will support you, give you the advice you need, and encourage you to take risks to grow in your craft.
7. Make (and keep) little deadlines.
The best way to reach the Deadline of all Deadlines: the final, polished product, is to make hundreds of tiny, little deadlines to keep your project moving forward. Write one page a day, or 1,000 words. Finish a chapter in three days, or three weeks. Whatever you are working on, break it up into little, do-able chunks, and make the little deadlines that lead you to slaying that Deadline of all Deadlines, and probably with a few days to spare.
8. Find, and then never surrender, your voice.
One of the greatest moments in a writer’s life is when s/he discovers their voice within, that distinct style in writing that distinguishes them from every other individual who has ever picked up the pen. We discover our voice through writing daily and uninhibitedly, as well as trusting the process fully. And once you do find it, never EVER surrender it for brevity or under the (really bad) advice from an editor. Your voice is your DNA.
9. Just write the damned thing.
Probably the best advice ever given to me. When I had the chance to talk about writing with author Tom Clancy, I babbled on about this and that and why and why not. He sat there and listened patiently, then said, “Just write the damned thing.” And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. Don’t tell me or others about why you can’t write; instead, just write the damned thing.