Choosing Creativity, Connection & Calm

How are you holding up?

I keep reminding myself that stress and anxiety do nothing to contribute to my resilience, strength and resourcefulness during challenging times. Instead I am actively reaching for things that contribute to my calm.

What’s Currently Supporting Me

  • Listening to gentle music. Here’s a soothing playlist I’m enjoying on Spotify: Strings for Sleeping.
  • Tidying my home, particularly the studio. It’s become quite chaotic and I feel so much better when it’s at least a little orderly.
  • Cleaning with love and intention. From my hands to the countertop, from the light switches to our laundry, it feels good to wash away worry and dirt.
  • Frequent lie-downs. This is especially nourishing when I can curl up amidst the kittens and be serenaded by purrs.
  • Time in my Studio Yearbook, writing, doodling, cutting and pasting, washi-ing, colouring, generally messing around.

During this week’s Studio Yearbook kick-off, participants shared some of things that are helping them stay nourished and calm. There were so many great suggestions that I pulled together the common threads as a robust resource for us all.

What’s Currently Supporting Studio Yearbookers

Connecting with Nature. This was the major theme amongst yearbookers. Whether it’s stepping out into the backyard, going for a walk (wherever you are, no matter the weather, with dog or without dog) or listening to the birds through your window, tuning into the beauty and aliveness of the natural world is a balm. It’s reassuring how, as yearbooker Sabrina put it, “Everything goes on as usual in nature.”

Breathe. Throughout your day, simply pause and take a deep breath. Breathe with your whole body. Feel the difference it makes. Step outside or open your window and gather beautiful fresh air into your lungs.

Time with Furry Friends. If you have pets, they are such a comfort. As I’m writing, Scout is curled up behind me on my chair, leaning into my lower back. In a time of social isolation, it’s nice to have that physical connection!

Gratitude. This is always a powerful practice and even more so now. In the midst of this crisis, take some time to recognize the gifts that are present and available to you right here and right now.

Movement. We may be spending most of our time indoors but that doesn’t mean we have to stay still. Studio Yearbookers are stretching, dancing, doing yoga and Tai Chi to keep their bodies moving. There are lots of free resources online to support you in finding your way to move. For example, I know a lot of people enjoy Yoga with Adrienne and I quite like Yogamazing with Chaz.

Meditation. Even a 5-minute meditation will bring respite to your day. Again, there are many resources online to get you started, including the popular Insight Timer app. For a live experience, my meditation teacher Susan Piver is currently hosting meditation gatherings free online each day. Find out more here.

Filter. As I mentioned last week, I encourage you to stay informed and to also manage your input. You get to be your own filter and choose when, what, how much and from where you take in information. Trust your instincts. You are allowed to choose what is right for you.

Connecting with Loved Ones. Reach out to people you care about. Send a text or an email. Make a call. See if you can set up some family FaceTme, a coffee date on Zoom. Studio Yearbooker Susan is reading stories to her grandchildren across the country. What a great way to spend some of the day!

Be Present. Instead of spinning with worry about what might be, remind yourself of what is true in this moment. As yearbooker Amy says, “For now I am well. I am safe. I have plenty of food. That’s enough for this moment.”

Create. Studio Yearbookers are baking bread, making soup, painting, reading poetry, drawing, dancing, taking photos, writing, Many of us are finding ourselves with the gift of found time. Treat it like a precious gift and come to the work, the projects, the practices that have been waiting for you.

Creative Sharing

Not only are people doing beautiful things to nourish themselves but there are also so many finding ways to nourish one another!

Sing. This week my beloved Choir! Choir! Choir! hosted a Social Isola-sing-along on Facebook. For an hour, 9,000 people around the world sang together*. We couldn’t see or hear each other but oh, could we feel the togetherness! They will be hosting more of these events. If you want to participate, be sure to like their Facebook page here.

Attend. Also this week the ever-inspiring Indigo Girls held a live concert and Q&A on Facebook and Instagram. What a joy to be invited into their living room! It was so special to not just be with them but also, as I saw the comments going by, to recognize some of my dear friends in the crowd! Even though we live far from one another, we attended our first live concert together! Just like choir, the Indigo Girls have said they will be doing more of these events. Follow them here if you want to attend.

Listen. These things usually pop-up rather quickly so you have to keep your eyes open! One thing that I know that is available right now is that Audible is opening their vault of kids stories (including classics like Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, etc) whiles schools are closed. These are free to listen to here. (Thanks to my sister Shannon for the tip.)

Let’s all take exquisite care of ourselves and each other. Stay connected. Celebrate the blessings. There are good people everywhere.

Facing Hard Times with a Sensitive Heart

As I sit here writing this to you, what I hope more than anything is that you are well, that your loved ones are well, that all the people around you are well.

It’s a troubling time. Just as we finally begin to move out of the grips of winter towards the freedom of spring, we find ourselves wending into worry about the impact of COVID-19. It’s hard to get clear information. It’s hard to know what to do. I was surprised when Justin got home from work the other night and told me that our grocery store had been cleaned out of toilet paper, paper towels and more. All of this has me taking my spring cold rather seriously, even though I have no tangible reason to be concerned.

But everyone is concerned.

Conferences, schools, borders are closing. People are stocking up. If you’ve watched zombie movies and the like, maybe those fictional scenarios keep running through your mind. Not the zombie part, per se, but the way a crisis plays out, the desperate and horrible ways that people are said to behave. Those are the stories in our psyche and they are not helpful.

In contrast, this week I listened to a wonderful interview with Rabbi Harold Kushner, who wrote (among many other books) When Bad Things Happen to Good People. So much of what he said rang out into the darkness, particularly his exhortation to…

“Live bravely in an uncertain world.

As creatives, many of us have highly tuned sensitivity. It’s one of our best attributes. We take things in deeply. We revel and rattle in response to the world. As highly sensitive people, we can find crisis, chaos and confusion overwhelming. The jangling of our nerves makes us want to retreat, to shut down, to stop listening to the news.

We sensitive creative hearts mustn’t abandon the world.

Yes, take care of yourself. Sleep more. Eat well. Soothe your spirit with quiet and music and meditation. Journal your worries, fears and gratitude. Read what strengthens and inspires you. Stretch your body. Meditate. Hydrate. Create. Breathe. Let your practices support you beautifully and well.

Stay informed. Use this as an opportunity to hone your skill of discernment. Do your best to rely on simple and clear information resources not sensational stories or emotional tirades. Accurate information and helpful guidelines work wonders in the face of overwhelm. Check in with your resource once a day and then approach your day wisely and well.

We are connected. Don’t let this virus drive a wedge between us. Yes, for a time, we must keep our distance. We will hug less and we will stand further apart but, make no mistake, we are in this together. Do what you can to contribute. It can be as simple as diligently washing your hands. Make it even more powerful by infusing this act with positive purpose: “As I wash my hands, I help create safety for all.” This approach can apply to any of the recommended behaviours, for example, “As I keep my distance, it’s not because I don’t care about you. It’s because I do.”

Isolate – and reach out. We are all being encouraged to socially isolate and to self-quarantine if we’re not feeling well. Thankfully we live in an age where we can do this while also staying connected. Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, Facetime (even *gasp* phone) friends and loved ones. Look for ways you can help out in your community – and if you are the one who needs help, don’t hesitate to ask for it.

Take action. Send love. Whether it’s the current pandemic or something else that is flooding your nervous system with worry and stress, I encourage you to engage in the practice of sending love. Overwhelm thrives when we feel like there is nothing we can do. Even the smallest actions can give our energy a place to go and make us feel more settled. When I notice myself getting caught up in an emotional spiral of fear, worry, anger and anxiety, I get very still. I take a couple of deep breathes and become present in my body. From my heart centre and my belly, I send love. I send it to myself. I send it to others who are similarly suffering. If I am feeling very strong, I send love to what or whom I perceive to be the cause of the suffering. (If I don’t feel it, I don’t push it). This practice brings me ease and comfort. It makes me feel less alone. In my deepest heart I also believe that somehow it helps others feel less alone too.

You are not alone.

If you are feeling stressed out, worried and overwhelmed, if you or your family members are feeling unwell, know that right now I am here, breathing deeply and sending you love. I know that out there, someone, maybe you, is doing the same for me.

The Value of Sketching It In

It’s been over a month since we moved into our newly renovated house and it’s been quite a journey. The first few weeks were really about adjusting, getting used to how things work and, honestly, trying not to ruin anything! When we found our bravery and started settling in, it quickly became apparent that making ‘home’ was going to take time. It’s going to take time to become familiar with our new home, to figure out how we want to live in it and what it wants to be.

As we make a start, one of the most helpful things we’ve done is to use an approach that’s rather like sketching in a first draft.

For example, let’s look at our dining room. This is what it looked like when we first moved in.

As we imagine how we’d like this space to be, there are many considerations. We don’t own a dining room table or chairs yet. We have a limited width to work with and a sideboard we’d really like to use. We’re also thinking a rug might work well but we’ve never had one before so we’re really not sure. To help us decide, we’re sketching it in using what I’m calling ‘placeholders’ to figure out how things might work, look and feel.

With curiosity and no attachment, we sketched it in.

We put the sideboard in place. We added the one table we happened to have to give is an idea of proportion and placement. My sister Suzie had a rug that a friend had given her so we put it in place to get a feel. Suddenly it was much easier to get a sense of what’s possible.

So often we stay stuck in our heads because we can’t quite see the possibilities before us.

We spent a lot of time thinking and talking about what might work in this room but as soon as we sketched it in, the picture became clearer. Now we know that we don’t want a table any wider than this one. In fact, a little thinner would be even better. We’ll probably need to escape the grip of the strong sense of centre in the room and scooch everything over to the left. Maybe we’ll save some space with a bench under the windows instead of chairs. And even though the rug isn’t what we’ll end up with, using it as a placeholder sure let us know that a rug works in this spot. It immediately warms up the space and adds a sense of welcome.

Putting something in place, sketching it in, taking a bit of action, all of this can make the picture clearer. Sometimes that’s all you need to find your way to the next step.

Where might ‘sketching it in’ offer some clarity to you?

A Powerful Journal Prompt – and How to Use it as an Affirmation (I used it to get me through the reno)

If you’ve been around the studio for any length of time, you know that I believe journaling is one of the best practices for developing and sustaining your creative life. With just something to write with and something to write on, you can change your life.

That’s what happened to me when I was a grad student and living with my boyfriend of 13 years. I started writing morning pages, three pages of long-hand free-form writing prescribed by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. As I wrote, I started to hear my own voice for the first time in years. I could no longer avoid the truth; I felt constricted and unhappy and I needed to do something about it. Over the next year I started my life anew. It was terrifying and heart-wrenching but laid the foundations for the life I live and love now. Telling myself the truth each and every day tuned my inner compass and guided the way.

Just me, a pen and the page and everything changed.

Free writing is just one of many ways to journal. Another approach is exploring prompts, taking a question or a sentence stem and seeing where it leads. Today I want to share with you one of my very favourite:

I am a person who…

Note, the word ‘person’ should be adjusted to the word that best represents you to you. (For example, I usually write, “I am a woman who…”) This is your journal, your voice, your truth. Take this prompt to the page and complete the sentence over and over again with what you know to be true. Just keep writing and let aspects of you pour out of your fingertips.

I am a person who is an artist at heart.
I am a person with a soft spot for cartoons.
I am a person who values freedom.
I am a person who has loved and lost.
I am a person who speaks 7 languages.
I am a person who is tougher than I look.
I am a person with a great sense of wonder.
I am a person who deserves better.
I am a person committed to a cause.

Once you’ve finished journaling, take a moment to say each of the statements to yourself. Notice what happens in your body. When you hit on something that rings pure and true, you can feel it. It’s as though this reminder, this acknowledgement of who you are, deepens the strength of your roots.

You can feel the truth in your bones.

Over the summer I started using this practice to create meaningful affirmations. When I was facing a choice or a challenge, I crafted these I-statements into talismans, words I could use to remind me of who I am and who I wanted to be. For example, when I was heading into a big meeting with the trades for our renovation knowing I was going to have to hold firm in the face of opposition…

I am a woman who speaks her mind directly and with conviction.
I am a woman who holds her own.
I am a woman who keeps her cool.
I am a woman who gets what she wants.
I am a woman who turns conversations into connection.

I would play with the options as I got ready to go until I found something that felt just right. I would walk into that meeting with those words and that conviction about who I am, about who I was actively choosing to be. It served as an internal guidance system for every interaction and decision. When the challenging conversation was at hand, I would remind myself, “I am a person who turns conversations into connection. That’s not scary. That’s what I do. That’s who I am.” Or if I had to make sure my voice was heard, I would remind myself “I am a woman who holds her own. Right. I am. That’s me and that’s what I do. I hold my own.” And then I’d do it.

That’s the extra bit of magic. Affirmations are most powerful when we believe them to be true.

When you take this approach to these “I am” statements, you have the immediate opportunity to prove them true. In the situation with the contractors, I did that by holding my own or by having conversations with the intention of connecting. Even if I managed to do it just a little bit, my mind was predisposed to look for proof of who I say I am and would measure that little bit as success.* For example…

“I am a woman who turns conversations into connection.”
“Hey, when I made that joke with the contractor, he smiled and laughed. I felt like we were just people having a conversation.”

Using these I-statement affirmations has become a regular and powerful part of my life. When I face a challenge or a tough decision, I stop and think about who I am, who I want to be. “I am a woman of integrity.” “I am a woman who embraces life.” “I am a woman who chooses love.” And then I act. Each time, I feel my roots grow deeper, I know exactly who I am and I move forward with clarity and strength.

Knowing the magic in this simple journal prompt, I offer it up to you. May it remind you of who you are and guide you in becoming exactly who you want to be.

*This is why it’s so important to let go of negative self-talk. As we say rotten things about ourselves, our minds also look for proof of truth. Finding true and positive I-statement affirmations and living into them can help displace and replace those negative words.

Yes to a Winter Morning

One early morning a month, I meet with my Mastermind group. Today our get-together happened to be after a big snow storm, the kind of day and the kind of dark when it’s easy to say, “I’d rather stay in bed.” Instead, I put on my laid-out clothing, laced up my winter boots and I headed out into the quiet and cold.

It was dazzling.

There’s something about the snow, the way it slows us down, the way it brightens things up. Today it promised some magic.

You Don’t Have to Justify Your Creativity

As creatives, we tend to be a little bit different than your average bear.

Sometimes it’s obvious. We’re the ones unloading 3 books, 5 journals and a packed pencil case at a coffee shop. We’re the ones with big jewellery, a blue streak in our hair and a unique sense of personal style.

Sometimes it’s more subtle. It shows up in our resourcefulness, our problem-solving, our insatiable curiosity. Maybe we notice a slight dissonance when we’re chatting with others at work or at a party, a way that we seem to be slightly off-centre.
Perhaps we just don’t feel the same sense of attachment or urgency about the machinations of a workaday life. We long for something else, something every bit as real but not nearly as accepted.

We long for a creative life.

And a creative life looks different for each of us. It might mean working a comfortable job and investing your earnings in art classes and writing retreats. It might mean getting up early to write poetry by candlelight. It might mean becoming a part of an improv troupe or learning how to temper chocolate or knitting blankets for preemies. It might mean working as a temp between acting gigs, fundraising so you can make your documentary or start your own business.

What your creative life looks like is up to you.

No one else. You.

That’s not to say that everyone won’t have an opinion. Everyone will. Everyone.

Some people just won’t get it. They’ll think you’re a bit of an odd duck. Others will think you are special and rare. Still others will think, “Oh, it’s lovely that you have a hobby, dear.” And many (many) will warn you against trying to make it more than that. Some will even deign to assess your “talent” and the viability of this path for you. Some will think it’s only worthwhile if it makes money – if you can do that, then pursue it, otherwise…let it go, sweetheart.

Don’t listen to any of them.

Not a one.

Live a creative life, follow a creative path, because it’s who you are. You’ve always known it. Even when you weren’t expressing it, when it was locked down deep inside, you’ve always had a creative heart.

You don’t have to make money at it for it to be worthwhile.

You don’t have to be labelled as ‘talented’ in order to be worthy.

You don’t have to prove, justify, explain or defend.

You just have to do it.

I’m not saying it will be easy. I’m saying it will be worth it. I’m saying it’s your birthright. I’m saying it’s for you.
Be yourself. Love your life. Create your work.

I, for one, believe in you.

The Bigger the Dream, the Deeper the Roots

At this time of year, so many of us are deep in reflection*. Over the past week, I’ve had a lot of discussions with people near and dear to me about what they learned from 2019 and what they are envisioning for 2020. The more people I spoke with, the more I noticed a surprising theme emerging: slow growth.

I know. It’s not sexy, is it? Where are the big hairy audacious goals? The brave and bold choices? The dramatic transformations?

We all just seem a little tired for that.

Or maybe, it’s something more unexpected – we’re actually dreaming bigger.

When Justin and I sat down on New Year’s Eve and talked about our past year, it was clearly about our home renovation. As we explored the experience, we realized that we had actually been working on this dream for over three years! There was the year we committed and then started to dream and save. Then came the year we started working with the architect and getting the city’s approval. That was also the year that we went through all of our belongings, clearing the way for a new vision and a fresh start. Then last year we packed and moved and the construction work began. Our house was taken down to the studs and then was built back up again. Now, at the beginning of our fourth year, we’re preparing to move back in and make this fresh new space into our home. It’s time for us to nest.

If I’d been aware of how long it would take, I’m not sure how I would have approached it or whether I would have at all. How many times do we walk away from a dream because it seems like it will take too long – especially as we get older!

I don’t have time to get a degree!

It’s too late to start my own business!

I’m too old to learn the violin now!


There. I said it. Hogwash.

When I first read The Artist’s Way, I was shaken by something Julia Cameron said and it forever changed my perspective in this regard. I’m paraphrasing but I think you’ll get the point.

Yes, it takes a long time. Yes, it may be late. But in 5 years, you can either have 5 years of experience playing the piano or none. You choose.

And the beautiful thing, the thing that makes all the difference, is that it’s not just about the destination or even about the journey. It’s about who you become when you step into a desire or a dream. Do I want to be a woman who studies Art History or a woman who decided it was too late? Do I want to be a woman who can fumble her way through a conversation in French or a woman who wishes she learned? Do I want to be a woman who is writing a book or one who hopes to one day?

I have felt in a rush for a lot of my life. I’ve been a late bloomer and struggled with a constant state of worrying that I’ll miss out. It’s taken me a long time to realize how much I miss out on when I rush, including the chance to build big dreams, the kind of dreams that take patience and time, and the chance to live the kind of life that takes time to build.

I’m learning to not be intimidated by things that take a long time. No matter what happens, saying yes to what I dream of makes me the woman that I want to be.

Sometimes moving slow is dreaming big after all.