Making Every Day a Work of Art

I’ve taken a meandering road to the place where I am now with creativity. I am lucky enough to have incredible parents, who not only appreciate art themselves, but always encouraged me to explore anything I was interested in, and always told me that I could do anything I wanted to do, that I could be anything I wanted to be.  This is such a tremendous gift. My childhood, as a result, was filled with art classes and all kinds of projects. I remember my glee every time my mom would take me to Ben Franklin, which, to the average shopper, was just a discount store, but to my eyes was a magical wonderland of art projects to try: cross-stitch, latch-hook, paper-making, pottery-throwing, glass-painting. I tried them all, and I had a blast. My mom was a constant source of inspiration too, since every weekend she was trying something new: fabric-marbling, rubber stamp-carving, quilting, knitting, sponge-painting. Once we had some kind of party that my mom told me we could call an art show. I proudly hung up my drawings and paintings all over the house and felt the joy of being an Artist with a capital A.

But then something changed. I don’t remember exactly when, but I think it was sometime around middle school: I lost my childhood confidence in myself. I wouldn’t do something if I didn’t think I could do it perfectly, or even if I wasn’t sure I had the time and energy to devote to doing it perfectly, so now all of my art projects were gathering dust in the corners while I was devoting my time to winning spelling bees and tackling other such quantitatively-assessed tasks. I began to think that my mom’s projects were kind of out there, and it wasn’t until a long time later that I could see that really, deep down, I was jealous of the freedom she gave herself to try new things. How could she find the validation in herself to take up a new project every weekend? Where was her fear of failure, the roadblock of knowing she might not be the best fabric marbler ever? I don’t know where this self-imposed perfectionism of mine came from, certainly not from my parents, but it was strong.

I did at least do some writing in high school, and let myself have the adventure of trying to learn Russian on my own, but I spent most of college writing papers and learning verb conjugations and and letting my creative side lie completely dormant. It was very unsatisfying. My years in grad school found me doing much the same, with the added stigma on having “hobbies” while one was supposed to be devoting oneself to the life of the mind. Ridiculous, I know, but again, powerful.

And then, miraculously, something happened. My sweet husband, then my sweet boyfriend, was away on a work trip in Australia for four months, and I was forlorn. I also had the semester off from teaching, so I actually felt that I had some time to devote to…something. I began by trying to make lists (oh, how I love lists!) of some things I thought might be nice prizes for myself on lonely days. It included things like turning up Pandora really loud and dancing around my apartment, taking bubble baths, and drinking hot chocolate. But another one of my ideas was to finally read a book I had stolen from my mom’s bookshelf years before (sorry, mom!): The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I think I had waited so long to read it because I had some inkling that it was going to be important, and, again, I didn’t feel like I had the time to devote to it. I am so very grateful for these magical circumstances that led me to finally read it because, oh my goodness, did it ever change my life.

Working through the book day by day and week by week, I began to slowly confront the roadblocks I’d set up for myself. I began to question my perfectionist tendencies. I slowly began to build up the confidence I needed to give myself freedom to explore again. I started making lists of all the things I’d like to do, and, little by little, the world began to look like a giant Ben Franklin store. Buy some paint and canvases? Sure! Hunt for treasures in a junk shop? Why not! Get a sewing machine and start playing with it? Yes! Learn Turkish just for fun? Absolutely! One of the most important things I learned was to dream without limits about the things I might like to do, since if I couldn’t even let myself imagine it, I surely wouldn’t ever let myself do it. It was so hugely empowering and liberating to be able to give myself permission to try new things without worrying about mastering them. As soon as I reached that stage, my life became so much more fun.

I started painting and sewing and making jewelry and turning my shoeboxes into canvases. I started taking longer walks and noticing trees and flowers more. I started spending my Saturdays traipsing through museums or exploring new neighborhoods or treasure hunting at thrift stores. I started learning Turkish. I started decorating my walls with maps and postcards from distant lands. I started looking into some classes I might take. I started dreaming about the places I’d like to travel, the things I’d like to learn how to do. I realized, for the one millionth time, how awesome my mom is and always was, and I told her so. Just recently Eric was telling me how happy he is to see me so happy, since I’ve started my blog and started a million new projects. After I told him how sweet he is, I told him that I feel like when I am creating, when I am making things, when my eyes are really open to the world around me, I feel like my truest self. That is a powerful and beautiful thing.

I am so happy to be in this place, and so grateful for the inspiration that surrounds me on a daily basis. Blogging and being on Twitter and Pinterest are a big part of it for me, since they are always pointing me in some exciting new direction and introducing me to amazingly inspiring people. One of my favorite blogs is written by Elise Blaha Cripe (I found her blog through Twitter, where she mentioned a nutella pumpkin bread she had made: yes, nutella pumpkin bread!!). She is an artist, and she makes these amazing mini-books (for herself and for others), and she blogs every day about whatever it is she happens to be doing. I found her blog through Twitter, and then I was quickly sucked into a happy vortex of awesomeness. She has all kinds of plans and goals and projects, and she has so much excitement about the things she does. I also think it’s really incredible that one of her header images says “just start,” and that she gets right in there and tries new things without worrying if they are going to be perfect, but instead focusing on having fun and learning something new, focusing on the joy of making something with her own hands. She really creates this feeling that you can make your life and the world around you anything that you want it to be. She is so so so inspiring.

I also found the blog Tea Talk through Twitter, and I love how Chelsea finds time in her busy grad student schedule (ah, camaraderie!) to find art in the everyday. She writes so sweetly about her life, and she puts a handful of pictures up on Twitter every day–little things, like a cup of coffee or a new pair of shoes or a spot in the sun at a cafe. I love how she is recording the beauty around her in these tiny little doses and sharing it with all of us. She has really inspired me to keep my eyes open, and to savor the small pleasures in life, like pretty leaves and afternoon tea.

So here I find myself in the interesting position of drawing inspiration from modern technology. This is isn’t really surprising at all, except it is for me. I resisted Twitter for a long time, and then I made an account, thinking I’d follow all the writers I love. And then I learned that they don’t have Twitter accounts. I deleted my account, but made a new one under the same name when I started my blog because I was starting to understand that there are real communities there of people who care about things I also care about. I wanted to be part of those communities. And now, I have to say, I *love* Twitter and am grateful for all the amazing people and things I have found through it. It’s my favorite thing to check first thing in the morning to see what’s new. And then I check Pinterest, for a mind-boggling quantity of amazing and exciting ideas. 🙂

Last week my husband and I got our first iPhones, and I have been *loving* having the ability to snap a picture and post it right away. I could never do that on my old phone, and now I feel like I see everything as full of potentiality, full of possibility as experience and memory. I think I what am doing with this, even if nobody else ever reads my tweets, is creating a visually-based personal history. And that is so magical to me: everything around me is auditioning for a spot in my tiny scrapbook. I have had a daily photo project for a long time now (almost finished with the second year!), which I love, but there is something in the immediacy of the Twitpic setup that drives me to open my eyes ever wider, that makes me not want to miss any hidden magic. I once listed “aestheticization of the quotidian” as one of my interests on Facebook, and I still mean it. I believe there is wonder everywhere in our daily lives.

All our lives are made up of moments. It’s impossible to remember an entire year, or an entire week, or even an entire day , but we can remember moments. And so, in between my crazy mishmash of projects and recipes and ideas and everything else I have going on, I want to have my eyes wide open for those moments. I want to preserve them however I can. In some ways, the title of this blog post is really a misnomer. Sometimes it’s really not about making every day into a work of art, but about seeing that every day already is a work of art. And that too is a gift.

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