The Books on My Creative Living Bookshelf

Despite the fact that I love books, it has taken me years to get back into the habit of reading. I found myself so busy that I just never picked up a book and I missed it deeply.

The first step of the return was discovering the joy of audiobooks. Suddenly, I could read while I was folding laundry or out on an errand. That was a gamechanger. The evidence is in my Studio Yearbook. I could see all the titles I had read in a season. In three months of listening, I read more books than I had in three years! It felt so good.

Once I was back in the world of books, there was still something missing. I longed for a deep dive. I love listening but I also wanted to get out my journal and take notes. I wanted to grab my highlighter or pencil and (gasp!) underline and make notes in the margins. I wanted to follow the author’s thoughts to my own conclusions. I wanted to engage!

Here’s where I found a new level of weariness.

Though I longed for that deeper connection with the material, it was also exhausting. Sometimes I would make a start and get flooded with so many ideas, feelings and reactions that I would be overwhelmed. It was like plugging into something with a higher voltage than I was currently able to handle. My off switch would immediately flip.

What life am I living that I can’t read a book?

What life am I living that I can’t engage in reflection and thought?

I remembered some wisdom from my sister Shannon who is an avid reader. Citing her own experience of moving from YA novels to Shakespeare and Tolstoy, she reminded me that reading is a muscle and it strengthens with practice.

So now I am welcoming back not only reading but also engaged reading. If I read a single paragraph and am sent into a whole new world of thoughts, feelings and ideas, I close the book and follow that path. I give myself time to take in all the richness and let it become a part of me. It’s like learning to take the right-sized bites and then letting my system digest fully. I feel richer for giving myself and the author’s work this time and attention.

Of course this deep dive isn’t required at all times. It’s not a ‘better’ way of reading. It’s a way of reading that my creative spirit needed and now I include it in my days. Figuring all of this out has led me to being able to bring you a new episode of Creative Living Bookshelf. I hope you enjoy the return of the show as much as I have enjoyed my return to books!

Eliminating Creative Friction & Enhancing Creative Flow

As creatives, we feel the constant pull to create, the desire to pursue ideas and bring them to life. It’s what we’re made for! Unfortunately, this doesn’t always result in a free and easy flow of artistic energy. We constantly contend with friction that inhibits our creative expression.

Friction is anything, large or small, that disrupts or slows the flow of your artistic energy and it can happen at any point in the creative process.*

As an example, let’s think about what it takes for you to get creating. Do you know where you can work? Is that space available or do you have to negotiate with others or deal with clutter? How about supplies? Do you know what you need? Do you have everything? Can you find everything? Is it such a hassle to get everything ready you don’t even want to start?

These are just a few practical points of friction that occur before you even begin. (I get a bit stressed just thinking about them!) This is why we so often dream about, read about and pin photos of artist studios that are perfect in every way. We imagine an environment that doesn’t impede us, that supports us. That’s a wonderful aspiration to work towards and we want to be able to create right now, right where we are.

Looking at these examples, how might we reduce friction so it’s easier to get creating?

Can you claim a space as your art space? Even if it’s not used for art all the time, choosing a go-to creative space eliminates decision-making (and potentially negotiation) and thus, friction.

Clutter in the way? We creatives tend to have a lot of stuff. Instead of berating yourself about it, find a strategy for working with what is. Honestly, I’ve often just piled things on the floor while I worked and put everything back when I’m done. It’s not a long-term solution (unless it is) but it did allow me to get to work! Another helpful strategy is separating the act of clearing from the act of creating. This ensures you’re not tired out before you even begin. As an added benefit, you don’t start to associate creating with the hassle of tidying.

This last strategy can be also be applied to your supplies. I take inspiration from my grandmother who would set the table for breakfast before she went to bed. It was magical to wake up and see juice glasses and cereal bowls at the ready. How would it feel to get your space and supplies prepared in advance as a lovely gift to your future self? With everything good to go, you will be able to glide in and start creating. Any friction in the preparation has already been handled.

This week, take some time to actively assess where friction lives in your creative process. Then experiment with ways to lessen or eliminate that friction. Remember, this isn’t about needing the perfect environment or coming up with a perfect solution. It’s about finding ways to get to your work. Every little bit of friction you clear makes the path that much easier. With the persistence of water wearing away at rock, over time you will wear a smooth path for your artistic energy.

Your creativity matters. Help it flow.

Deepening Creative Roots: Behind the Scenes in the Studio

It’s been a while since I’ve been here with a Behind the Scenes video. Amazingly, it was the BTS episodes where I shared my thoughts on artistic devotion that sent me into the studio for a season. I’ve been hard at work deepening the roots of my work in service of helping more people step onto this path. Changes are afoot, my creative friends!

Mentioned on Today’s Show:

Awakening Your Creativity Changes Everything

When I was a new coach, many moons ago, I took a leadership course. My biggest takeaway came from the following question: “If you could help people with only one thing, what would it be?”

My world and my work changed forever when I realized my answer was: creative capacity.

What I knew then and what I know now is that when you recognize and develop your creative capacity you come alive, you discover your agency and you are able to break through limitations and open up possibilities like never before. This applies to your art, to your life and even to the world.

Pretty big claims, I know.

But I’ve seen it again and again.

Someone starts drawing and little by little they come back to themselves. With every drawing, sketch and doodle, they experience the creativity they are capable of. They begin to recognize their unique hand and express their own voice. It is undeniable that where once there was nothing, because of their creative capacity, now there is something. They develop the confidence that they can bring an idea into being because they have. Then, often without any conscious thought or intention, all of this begins to come off the page.

If I can create in my sketchbook, where else can I create?

If I can be myself in my art, where else can I be myself?

If I could bring that idea to life, what else can I bring into being?

Your creative capacity is a force of nature. Once awakened, it wants to find expression everywhere. You pick up flowers to draw and delight in the way they perk up your kitchen. Their colour inspires you to paint your bathroom a vibrant shade of coral. You’re inspired to pick up a book on colour theory and start changing how you dress. You start watching art documentaries and taking copious notes. You start listening to music again. You and your world come alive.

This activation of your creative capacity can also be unnerving. All sorts of things that seemed immutable suddenly become open to change. Now you want friendships where you do more than just listen. Though you’ve been okay in your job for years, now you can’t stop thinking about running your own business. You watch the news and when something distresses you, instead of turning it off, you think, what if I could make a difference? Do I have the courage to try?

Creativity is disruptive. This is one of the reasons we resist it and one of the reasons we’re often discouraged from it. It shifts the status quo. Creativity is wildly alive and expansive by nature. It wakes us up and shows us the magic we are capable of.

Once you know that you can create, the possibilities of what you create are endless

That’s why I believe that awakening your creative capacity is the beginning of everything.

A Simple Tool for Making Things Better

Last week I shared some thoughts on navigating big feelings and I heard back from so many that it was just what you needed. All of these emails inspired me to share a simple tool I use all the time, one that can be profoundly helpful when navigating rough terrain and new territory.

When I’m in a tough place, struggling to find my footing and re-align my life, I take some time in my journal to list three things that helped me that day. By “helped’ I just mean that it shifted something for the better, maybe my mood, my situation or my outlook. Any positive shift counts. Here are some examples of things I’ve listed in the past.

Things that Helped

  • Journaling
  • Talking to Justin
  • Getting outside
  • Getting more sleep
  • Getting “dressed and ready”
  • Finally making “that” phone call
  • Finally making a decision (and trusting it)
  • Facing my fear and going to the dentist
  • Cancelling a meeting
  • Getting to my art table
  • Tea and chocolate
  • Playing in my yearbook
  • “Chair and stare” time
  • Tidying
  • Telling a hard truth

In my journal, I’m more specific. I’d specify the decision I made and the hard truth I told. These reflections show me not only which strategies actually helped but they also remind me that things did, even incrementally, shift for the better. As I continue this practice, I am able to notice trends and can start to build a set of strategies to call on in the future. (That is not to say that something that worked once will work every time but at least it’s a starting point.) With each daily list, I learn more about myself and what supports me.

Along with the three things that helped, I also write down three things that didn’t. These could be things that simply weren’t effective or things that brought my energy down instead of up.

Things that Did Not Help and/or Hindered

  • Avoiding making “that” call (It just made me feel worse and kept it on my mind all day.)
  • Sleeping in (I hate feeling like I didn’t have a morning.)
  • Powering through
  • Keeping to myself
  • Chocolate
  • “Bad TV” (Sometimes it’s a welcome distraction but not today.)
  • Going to “x” (I wish I’d trusted myself and cancelled.)
  • Talking to “y” (Wow, that actually always makes me feel worse. I think I need to re-evaluate this relationship.)

With my “did not help” list, you can see I often write a little explanation. This helps me dig for discoveries. For example, if “more sleep” helps but “sleeping in” hinders, it might be smart to try going to bed earlier.

This practice shows me where to stop investing time and energy and where I can make practical and positive change. Without taking this time to reflect, I may stay unaware. I might have felt horrible all day without realizing it was because I was carrying the weight of that phone call with me. Now, I know I have to get that done. (By the way, you may have noticed “chocolate” is on both lists. When things show up in both places, I pay special attention to when and how I invite that particular thing into my day.)

The lists I’ve shared have several items each but generally I keep my daily list down to three things that helped and three things that didn’t. If I can’t come up with three, that’s fine but having that as my goal encourages me to stay with the exercise and look deeper.

This simple daily tool enhances self-awareness and helps with making supportive choices, especially when life is chaotic and you’re feeling unsettled. Each day, lean more and more into the things that help and away from the things that don’t. It’s like navigating a boat away from the rocks and towards the open sea.

Sending blessings for the journey,

When You Are Having Big Feelings

When I sat down to write last week’s newsletter, I thought it would be full of lightness and the fresh energy of this much-anticipated spring but that’s not what tumbled out of my heart.

I am beyond thankful for the return of the sun and the birds, for the tips of green on the trees and the snowdrops coming up from newly exposed ground. I am also thrilled to see so many of my students getting their vaccines, starting to feel a sense of hope and relief, even seeing friends and family.


… and so many are still waiting.

… and so many lives have been lost.

… and in the midst of it all, we continue to face a racial crisis as Asian people are being targeted with violence (which is going starkly under-acknowledged), not to mention that anti-black racism hasn’t disappeared since it came into sharp relief last summer.

… and then there’s the complicated feelings we each might have about things returning to ‘normal’. Will we feel safe when we’re expected to return to work? Will there be work to return to? Will what we used to enjoy, like going to the movies or yoga class, ever be the same? Did the imposed restrictions surprise us with relief at the slower pace? Do we have to give that up?

It’s a lot.

And even as hope arrives in the form of spring, a vaccine and political change, we can find that our feelings don’t abate but intensify. In crisis situations we often push aside intense emotions in order to deal with the necessities. Then, when the pressure lessens, those feelings flow and need somewhere to go.

Whether it is as a result of the current context, something deeply personal or both, if you are having big feelings right now, I want to share some strategies with you.

Things to Do When You Have Big Feelings

  1. Move Your Body. Yes, this old chestnut. Choose an activity that supports the energetic expression of your emotion. Maybe you want to run. Maybe you want to dance. Maybe you want to lift weights or roll around and stretch on the floor. Maybe you want to move those big boxes in the garage or rearrange your furniture. Maybe you want to clean your bathtub. Moving your body helps emotional energy move along.
  2. Write. Letting it all out into your journal can be a powerful way of getting that emotional energy out of your system and onto the page. Your journal can hold it all with infinite patience and zero judgment. If you don’t want to keep a record or if you worry about someone finding all you’ve released, write on scrap paper and shred it, safely burn it or find another way to let it go.
  3. Make Marks. As creatives, we know there are many ways to pour ourselves onto the page. Making marks can be a great release of energy and can be less fraught with rumination than writing. What would feel right for your current state? Scribbling with crayons? Pushing hard on a pencil across the page? The smooth glide of markers? The smush of colourful pastels? Try a few things and see what brings a sense of satisfaction or relief. (By the way, both writing and mark-making are also ways of moving your body.)
  4. Water. Water is the element of the emotions. Let it be your ally in working with your big feelings. Have a shower and imagine all that excess energy washing away and slipping down the drain. Make sure you’re staying hydrated. Drinking enough water ensures that your physical system can flush away toxins, including those brought on by tension and stress.
  5. Breathe. Each time we breathe, we bring brand new air into our system and release what we no longer require. Actively imagine all the fresh and good coming into your system and all the strain and pressure leaving. Our breath is also a natural and physical rhythm and rhythm provides a sense of predictability and relief.
  6. Savour. Slow down and allow yourself to receive the beauty and blessings of the world. Sit in the sun and feel the gift of its warmth. Put on headphones, close your eyes and be awash in music. Plump up your pillow and cozy up in bed for a nap. If you have fur babies, give yourself over to cuddles and purrs. Let it be simple and be present to enjoy it.
  7. Talk. Reach out and share your heart with a trusted friend (and when you’re able, be that trusted friend for others.) Everyone needs to share and be witnessed. Some of us, extroverts in particular, only really understand ourselves when we talk out our feelings. Find a therapist who can support you, particularly if you are having trouble coping*.
  8. Take Action. Overwhelm often shows up when we are faced with things beyond our control. Taking action on the things that we do have some agency over, no matter how small, can help. This can be as simple as getting the dishes done or as significant as taking the first step in resolving an issue. I often think of a saying I first heard from Carrie Anne Moss, “When the pressure is on, act, and the pressure is off.”

In Journal Club last week, there were a lot of big feelings. It was a gift to have a place where we could be exactly where we were, a place where the full spectrum of our human experience was welcome. You are allowed to be exactly where you are and feel exactly what you feel. It doesn’t matter if it’s out of step with others or if it’s different than you expected. What matters is that you find your way to support yourself deeply and find a way through. Spring, in all its forms, will be here again.

Creative Resilience

One thing we artistic souls benefit greatly from is developing and strengthening our creative resilience.

The world may draw a portrait of play dates and frivolity, which are a delight, but the creative path is also rife with challenges. Here are just a few that I know you will recognize: self-doubt, comparison, criticism, rejection, perfectionism, procrastination, too many ideas, no ideas, indecision, disappointment, discouragement, discomfort, despair, the imposter complex and a cruel inner critic. Plus there’s always the pain of recognizing the distance between what you envision and what you create and the existential doubt of whether it’s worth it at all. This is just a smattering of internal barriers and doesn’t even begin to address the systemic pressures, expectations and limitations that are placed on creatives based on race, gender identity, sexual orientation or living with a disability.

It’s a lot.

So how do we show up again and again? How do we answer the artistic call in spite of it all and stick with it?

Tend to Your Self

In The Tempest, Prospero says, “We are such things as dreams are made on.” As artists, we create out of our very being and that means we simply must nourish and care for ourselves in order to show up for the work and its demands. When we make sure we tend to our health – physical, mental, emotional – we are also tending to our art. The more resourced we are, the better able we are to contribute to our work and to weather the inevitable challenges and storms .

Have Your Squad

Not everyone will get that art is demanding. You may have experienced some version of this: you mention working on something creative and hear, “Well, must be nice for some” or “I’m glad somebody’s having some fun!” This belief that art-making is simply a leisure activity is common. So common, in fact, that you may have internalized that your creativity is a luxury, something you should do only when all the ‘real work’ is done. This is one reason that it is so helpful to have a community of creatives who get it, who know that your creative work is deep and meaningful and sometimes a struggle, creative colleagues who can offer encouragement and cheer you on when days are tough.

Turn to Your Art

We’re so used to thinking of art as ‘fun’ that we forget something profoundly important: we can bring all that we are, all that we feel, all that we revel in and struggle with to our art. We can paint out our fear. We can tell the story of our tears. We can dance our truth in all its colours. One of the many gifts of art – both in its creation and also in its consumption – is that it houses the complexity of the human experience. Think about the songs that have moved you, the plays that have stayed with you, the art that has jolted your awareness. Art itself can help us process and progress. It can help us find our resilience.

Create Sanctuary

If you’ve seen the symbol for Jamie Ridler Studios, you’ll know it is a form of circle within a circle, reflective of the moon but most importantly it expresses my concept of a studio. A studio is an energetic space you create for yourself and your work. It is a circle that can be formed anywhere and at anytime. The key is that it be energetically sound. You must know that within the confines of your studio, you are free to be your whole creative self, free to tell your stories, to take risks, to be honest and awkward, to be dazzling and delighted, to scream, to roar, to cry, to laugh, to dance. It is a place designed by you for you. It is a place where you learn to be free.

And when you are feeling resilient…

The free and creative studio space we build for ourselves can serve as a model for the life we want to live and even the world we want to be a part of. Let us be devoted not only to finding our own way but also to making the path easier for others. Be an encourager. Be a model of possibility, Take a stand against systemic barriers. Where you have learned, share the learning. Where you have squeaked open a door, hold it open for others. Creative resilience matters for each of us and for all of us. Let us nourish our creative resilience as a community by reminding one another, we are not alone.

Your creativity matters. Your resilience matters. You matter.