Yesterday, I found myself wandering the grocery store, exhausted, trying once again to figure out what to have for dinner. In my house, there are only three of us to feed: my husband, myself and a geriatric Jack Russell. The Jack Russell enjoys kibble; unfortunately, meal planning for my husband and me requires a bit more effort, although some days I’m willing to give the kibble a try (at least our dog’s brand is organic). Still, planning that dinner, even just for two, finished off my already dwindling internal resources — how my friends with children prepare multiple meals every day I will never know. Driving home from the grocery store, I noticed my gas gauge was on empty. I thought, this is me right now. I am driving on fumes.
Right along with many friends and colleagues, I am burning the candle at both ends. As an artist and self-employed person, I rarely give myself time off, plus lately I’ve been working on very big and demanding creative projects. Like all people who work for themselves, I am simultaneously the CEO, the creative team, the accountant, the marketing department, the administrative assistant and the janitorial staff. Also shipping and new business. No matter what your role in life — mother, executive, student — you have a similar list. There are projects to complete and deadlines to meet. Refueling doesn’t seem like an option.
Paying a Price
This thinking, however, is seriously flawed, which was made painfully obvious to me this morning when I woke up depleted and nearly in tears. On his way to work, my husband simply said, “You might want to take the day off. You looked wrecked.”
I consider myself a smart person, but sometimes I am not very bright. I know better than to let myself get this spent. In Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, I learned both the danger of creative over-exertion and the antidote as well, which she calls “filling the well.” Whether you’re an artist or not, this applies to you.
Art is an image-using system. In order to create, we draw from our inner well. This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond. We’ve got big fish, little fish, fat fish, skinny fish — an abundance of artistic fish to fry. As artists, we must realize that we have to maintain this artistic ecosystem. If we don’t give some attention to upkeep, our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant, or blocked.
Any extended period or piece of work draws heavily on our artistic well. Overtapping the well, like overfishing the pond, leaves us with diminished resources. We fish in vain for the images we require…As artists, we must learn to be self-nourishing. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them — to restock the trout pond, so to speak. I call this process filling the well.
Taking a Mental Health Day
I have not self-nourished in a very long time, so I begin remedying the situation. I spent the morning in my pajamas and drank cups of tea. I finished my friend Hillary Graham’s just-released young adult book, Reunited, which I highly recommend, even for older adults. I scrolled YouTube for clips and trailers of movies I love (for your enjoyment, I have included the proposal scene from Sense and Sensibility and the trailer for Lars and the Real Girl). And tonight I went to the Peterborough Players, our fabulous regional theater, and watched my dear friend Kathy Manfre star in a new play, Auld Lang Syne, which was an IV drip of creative energy.
This morning, I plan to pour over The Drawing Book, edited by Tania Kovats, that features images that are so fabulous they make me whimper. Slowly, but surely, I feel the well filling, the tank refueling. I’ll know for sure how I’m progressing later this week when I head back to the grocery store — if I come home with kibble for dinner, I’ll know I’ve got more work to do.
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