…And that would be the ball that I dropped in not posting here for over a month.
I went into this enterprise primarily to extend the informal ‘newsletter’ I’d been sending out to friends and family while I was on the dig in Turkey. Over the summer, I decided that I would just keep on once I got home. There are always so many ideas bouncing around in my head. Mentally, I am constantly writing a script for each day’s events and passing inspirations, so I should have plenty of material, right?
Except that I am home – and that means that I have fallen right back into my bad habit: procrastinating. Mind you, I don’t accomplish that by doing nothing – au contraire! I procrastinate by engaging in a multitude of diverse activities – cleaning out the workshop, sorting through old files, re-organizing drawers, arranging my linen closet and – okay – catching up on Downton Abbey episodes. These are all things which need doing and are worthy of attention (have you seen Downton Abbey?) but don’t exactly fall into the category of “pressing.” In that category, there is an equally diverse assortment of things that need doing: the last of the Zincirli drawings, a conference presentation, a commissioned painting, a book…and posting on this blog.
I have puzzled for years over this procrastination thing. It seems to be a critical part of the creative process. I used “the” process not “my” process, because I have heard so many artists – authors, musicians, song-writers – and scientists and academics complain about this same thing. It is a scientifically established phenomenon: see this article at smithsonianmag.com Somehow, distraction is necessary to the creative act; it is while engaged in something else – something routine or relaxing or menial – that our minds are freed to untangle the problems we’re wrestling with, to sort through the mess of thoughts and re-assemble them in a different order, creating a path to something new.
I’ve noticed too, that for me procrastination is also about control. Instead of giving in to the pressure of a mounting stack of unaccomplished tasks, I respond by insisting that I do have time to bake this batch of cookies or kick through the leaves on this local trail. I also realize that it’s easier for me to stay on task when a structure is imposed on my day; hence, I’m better at juggling tasks on the dig or when I’m working part-time. In the initial stages of a project I enjoy the illusion that I have all the time I need. Somewhere along the time line though, control will mean getting down to work before a deadline becomes impossible – so structure will be imposed by my delay.
I used to beat myself up over this – but years ago my husband took me to task. He told me that he’d watched me work through this with each book I had illustrated. Yes, he told me, you are always impatient with yourself for not being able to start a project, but nonetheless, you are already at work on it. When it all comes together in your head, when you are ready, you will immerse yourself and nothing will interrupt you; everything else will cease to exist. The ‘everything else’ he referred to was sometimes, I confess, my family.
So I’ve learned to enjoy the scattered, seeming-to-accomplish-nothing time, because I know that it’s part of preparing to enter the tunnel – the hours, days and weeks ahead when my day will be consumed with the project before me and I risk turning into a hermit. I have a new children’s book project on my table – and I was fortunate to spend a week on Vancouver Island recently with the author. Debbie toured me around the wild west coast – beach-combing and hiking and enjoying the breath-taking scenery. My head is filled with ancient emerald forests and crashing surf, tangled luxuriant foliage and multi-coloured tide pools and a million possibilities for paintings. Now, I’m at home tidying my house, my garden, my life – akin to an expectant mother’s nesting activity – while I sort through the mental images crowding my brain. When it’s done – when the information is assembled and the space is cleared, when I’m ready – I’ll sit down in the studio.
While Downton Abbey may cease to distract me then, you might occasionally find me pouring over ads for British Columbia real estate. Have you seen the Canadian west coast?