Another List; or, ways to counteract feelings of creative stagnation when faced with a regular job that sucks all your time and energy [working title]

 

The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.

Pablo Picasso

I knew this would happen.

I was meant to be working a decent, part-time (i.e. maximum three-day-a-week) job which would give me time to focus upon writing, writing, writing for the other two days plus weekends when I could (i.e. so I don’t become a friendless hermit or cat-lady, minus the cats but with the isolated-craziness thing going on – I’m not allowed pets in my apartment but that’s another story, another blog, another day) …

This is not quite happening.

My three days often magically turned into five.  Just like that!

BAM!

Now I am signed up for four days a week. Sometimes five. Then I can negotiate a day-in-lieu. So maybe some weeks I can work three. But the usual will be four. Unless there is a show on or an important meeting. Then it is definitely five. But I’m only paid for four. But a day off can be negotiated so long as it isn’t for a day off when there is a show on or an important meeting. But most days. They’re flexible. To a point.

Confused? Me too.

But …

I thought I would manage.

One of my colleagues told me it wouldn’t work – “It’s a creative process,” he said. “You need time.”

Yes. That would be nice but I’m not Jane frickin Austen (apologies to Ms Austen – I know you didn’t have a middle name and probably would not appreciate being given that one in particular)  – I don’t have the luxury of time or a handsome trust account.

I have to Pay Rent / Buy food / Live (not necessarily in that order).

So, whilst I have been outwardly dismissing my colleague’s comments as completely and utterly wrong, inwardly I am thinking he might be right. There is a lot of pressure to get writing done when you only have limited time in which to do it: pressure trumps creativity.

But …

Maybe the reverse is true also; you make more of your time when you have less of it.

Or, in my case, you just freak out at the pressure of getting something done today and the pressure manifests into self-doubt and anxiety and youtube and Not Getting Anything Done.

So, here is my “list of ways to counteract feelings of creative stagnation when faced with a regular job that sucks all your time and energy” [working title]

  • Carry a pen and a pad of paper EVERYWHERE (um, okay, maybe not everywhere – everywhere, but you know, within reason) and write whenever anything is sparked.
  • Write something everyday. Be that mysterious person in the cafeteria at work who is scribbling away in their notebook (so long as you do look mysterious and interesting rather than creepy and homicidal).  Write any length / style / form; just do it everyday. Does a shopping list count? Hell yeah. Here’s my list for today:
Lime
Bananas
Tomatoes
Pineapple

(Riveting stuff there, I know … But one day it could be gold, you never know what I have to pick up from the store – stay tuned!)

  • Keep blogging
  • READ – READ – READ – never stop reading!
  • You don’t have to finish but you have to at least make a start …
  • Prove your smart-arse colleague WRONG

The Woman who asked Why or: How I l Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Critic

To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.

Aristotle

In my current day-job I work with really lovely people who always thank me for my work or say how great my Excel spreadsheets are or how happy they are with my contribution to the team or present me with two cinema tickets as a reward for all my efforts (yes, this actually happened. I saw Gatsby. That’s another story). Our department is not always this disneyfied-wonderland of positivity and appreciation, however I have never been nor felt criticized for my work.

It’s weird.

Because the work that I do that doesn’t-pay-the-bills-as-frequently-as-this-current-admin-job, as an actor and writer, is full of criticism. In fact, criticism and the Arts really go hand-in-hand; it’s part of the deal. Mum would always tell me I would need to “grow a thicker skin” if I wanted to be an actor … That sounded particularly terrifying and awful, especially to the fifteen year-old me who was sobbing into her pillow because she didn’t get the part in some god-awful amateur theatre production of Les liaisons dangereuses.

Actors, writers, theatre-makers, artists, designers, film-makers, creatives … We are all subject to criticism in our chosen fields. As an actor, simply not getting the gig can be taken as a criticism; that director thought she was better / prettier / thinner / more talented than me

To be honest, I am confident there are plenty of careers out there that must deal with fierce criticism everyday but there is something different about the criticism you receive for your creative work. Maybe because a little bit (or sometimes a lot) of yourself goes into creative work. Maybe because it is so exposing. Maybe because inside most people there is that creative urge, that sense that they too could have been doing something creative if only they’d had the break / money / parental support / reality television programs like The Voice, so that makes them some sort of expert who can dish-out criticism. Maybe because there really aren’t any “experts”. Maybe because the arts are so damn subjective (if you’re a crap doctor, you’re a crap doctor – there’s no question about it. Tobey Maguire, on the other hand, divides audiences).

There is also something different about the very public way in which that criticism is often given – reviews, particularly on the internet, are there for the world to see if they ever wanted to.

The growing of a thicker skin has been a very, very long process for me.

I once took part in a playwriting course – just a little bi-monthly meeting of wannabe playwrights, facilitated by one actual playwright. You would read your work aloud and get feedback. It was always a good day but never all that challenging. I was the youngest there and the only participant not attempting to write some sort of drawing-room drama. Needless to say the play I was working on, Dropped, was a little different from what the others found aesthetically pleasing.

After reading a section of my play (a section in which there is a bit of repetitive swearing but all in the appropriate context … of course) one of my fellow class-mates got quite irate:

“Why?” she asked.
“Why?” I didn’t know what she was really asking me here.
“Why?” she repeated.
“Why what?” I needed more information.
“Why?”
I just looked at her.
After a pause she continued, “I just don’t know why … I don’t understand. Why? Why these words? Why am I hearing this? Why?”

I didn’t have an answer for her.

That was criticism.

That was the first time the class had really challenged me.

And that was the moment I realised; as much as I hated it I also needed it – criticism.

It made me stop and think about what I was doing and why I was doing it. It also made me want to punch her in the face, but once I worked through that (no punches were thrown) I could actually start to look at my work objectively … Well, as objectively as you can.

Of course I won’t always like it, or agree with it, but I think I realised in that moment that it is a necessity for creative practice. Not a spiteful review or a mean-spirited comment but criticism that makes you think, question and challenge your work. Unfortunately there isn’t much of that around …

Learning to listen to criticism in whichever form it takes, to pick out the useful bits and brush off the crap, is difficult but you get to practice it a lot when you work in the arts.

It’s the only way I can keep turning up to castings. And not get the role.

It’s the only way I can keep writing. And not get the grant / commission / award.

In order to simply survive this crazy “industry” it is so very important separate the work from the person – to not look at a bad review or the fact you didn’t get a role as a personal attack … Keep it separate. Take from it what you can and make a choice: act on it or let it go. Otherwise, well, we would all go a little madder than we already are. Otherwise we would all just give up.

That woman with her incessant “whys” really did help me a hell of a lot.

(And Dropped is going to be performed soon complete with the aforementioned section in which there is a bit of repetitive swearing but all in the appropriate context … of course)

Missing Grandad (or, why I’ve not written in awhile)

Katy and Grandad

circa 1982

 

How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard 

A. A Milne

I have been away from this blog for a little while because my Grandad passed away. It was only two months and two days since my Nanna died when we got the news.

I am devastated.

There are times I feel really selfish for grieving because I know I was so very blessed to have grandparents throughout all my childhood and a good part of supposed-adulthood.

Anyway, I haven’t felt like doing much of anything but I am slowly getting things back on track. Like this blog.

I remember calling my Grandad for a chat one day, over a year ago now. I remember how his voice lifted when he heard me on the other end of the phone.

“I was just thinking about you Kate,” he said.

He went on to tell me he was standing at the kitchen sink, drying the dishes (as he did after every lunch), looking out the window and thinking about how proud he was of me for moving to Melbourne and following my dreams.

That was my Grandad.

He was a soppy thing.

He was my favourite person in the world.

And he is why I have to jump back right back into life and never stop chasing those dreams.