Category: Reading Nook

How to Supercharge Your Learning (a secret you might not want to know)

I know there are a lot of avid learners in this studio and you’re probably one of them, Jamie. Your creative life is no doubt richly nourished by inspiring books, creative classes and YouTube videos. Me too – both as a student and as an instructor!

Today I want to share with you a well-kept secret that will supercharge your learning. It’s a secret that we often keep even from ourselves. It’s called… doing.

Let me tell you about a brilliant client I worked with. He was fascinated by Buddhism, particularly the power of meditation. When I encouraged him to give meditation a try, he said, “Nah, I think I’m happy reading about it.”

Sound familiar? So many of us do this, especially if we are highly sensitive creatives. It’s so much safer and cozier to tuck into a book or to watch another tutorial than it is to clear off the table and paint or to sit down and write a first draft or to figure out how to use that dang sewing machine.

But here’s the thing…

All of these fascinating creative pursuits come alive and into focus when you dare to do them!

For example, imagine you want to learn to draw faces. You watch tutorials. You buy classes. You read books. All of that gives you a great foundation but you still don’t know how to draw faces. The only way you’re really going to learn is to…. draw faces.

You make a first attempt and it sucks. You try again and it sucks too. But if you can stick with it, if you draw another face and another and another, each one becomes incrementally, maybe imperceptibly, better than the last. You develop a sense of proportion. You start to find your way of drawing a nose, a chin, an upper lip. You remember what you’ve read and understand it in a new way. You try what you learned in class and maybe it clicks. You start to discover things that no one can teach you, like how you love pink and yellow side by side or that blending makes you sigh with joy so you use pastels and abandon markers.

You find your way.

It’s the same with any medium. Only when you start creating in the kitchen, do you begin to recognize how dough feels when it’s ready or that you scoff at recipes that ask for only one clove of garlic. Only when you work on knitting projects do you realize what the right tension feels like in your hands or that certain types of yarn glide through your fingers and others have you cursing like a sailor.

With every step, with every action, not only are you learning but you are also becoming.

You are becoming the artist that you want to be.

All of the wisdom that people share is a blessing and a gift. Each resource you draw on is like a precious map for your creative journey but the adventure truly begins when you do.

Do You Miss Coffee Shops?

Jamie Ridler sitting in a coffee shop looking out the window
photo credit: Suzie Ridler

As we stay close to home due to COVID-19 restrictions, one of the things I have truly been missing is spending time in coffee shops. What a joy to pack up my pencil case, a journal (or three) and a good book (or two) and take a few hours to fill my well.

This weekend I decided that if I couldn’t go to the coffee shop, then I would bring the coffee shop home. With about 10 minues of care and creativity, Justin and I were able to relish hours of café time, reading, writing and relaxing.

How to Create a Coffee Shop Experience at Home

First let me say this isn’t about ordering a bistro set or investing in a cappuccino maker. If you can and want to, by all means, go ahead! I just want you to know that nothing extravagant is required to create this experience.

Space: Choose a small and manageable location to serve as your “coffee shop”. You just need a spot to sit comfortably, somewhere to set your coffee and, of course, a book or a journal! Maybe your kitchen table would be perfect or a corner of your couch or your bed and nightstand. The important part is deciding, “Here is where I am setting up my coffee shop.” And remember, this isn’t meant to be a massive undertaking. It’s a simple and magical way to shift the energy, have some respite and enjoy a bit of a change!

Once you’ve decided on your ‘where’, it’s time to work some energetic magic and welcome in all that you love about coffee shops. You can do that by focusing on the senses.

Sight: How can you quickly and easily make adjustments to bring a café vibe into your space? A quick tidy-up is a good place to start. Maybe even a spot-clean. It does wonders for an energy shift! Tuck away some of the ‘stuff’ you associate with the space’s regular identity and make a bit of room. Add a touch of beauty. Bring over that plant from the windowsill. Add a pretty little tealight beside it. Do you have a mug or teacup you adore? How about a lovely plate for a cookie?

Taste: Speaking of cookies, I learned from my Dutch father-in-law that in Holland, whenever you order a coffee, you always get a little treat on the saucer, perhaps a small cookie or chocolate. This will definitely be a constant for our coffee-shop-at-home experiences! Justin and I have also ordered ground coffee from a coffee shop we love. Not only does that “Bards Blend” evoke sensory memories but our order supports a local business at a difficult time. What flavours will you bring into your café?

Scent: The smell of coffee is the obvious choice here. Maybe now is a good time to amp it up by grinding your own beans. And remember, coffee shops aren’t just for coffee!! You can also savour the scent of your peppermint tea or chai. If you’re someone who relishes café patios for the fresh air, open your windows. If it’s a little chilly, all the better! You’ll remember exactly what it feels like to be out and about at this time of year.

Touch/Feel: At a café, do you always pick a chair and a table so that you can write or do you gravitate to the cozy armchair in the corner? The kinesthetics of your body posture are a part of how an experience feels. What clothing would you wear to a café in autumn? Is it time for a chunky sweater? If you want to don your beret, go for it! For me, the best at-home addition to the coffee shop was a cozy throw! And of course, consider the feel of your mugy, your book, your journal, your pen.

Sound: One of the joys of coffee shops is the music.* Whether it is welcoming and familiar, full of new discoveries or even a bit corny, the music always creates a unique moment in time. Both Spotify and YouTube have playlists that will provide an appropriate soundtrack for hours. You can even listen to soundscapes that create the feeling of a coffee shop – even a coffee shop in the rainHere’s what Justin and I listened to for our coffee shop date.

With a bit of ingenuity and intention, we can call in a familiar experience in a brand new way. I know that I’ll be relaxing at Chez J&J today. I hope you have a wonderful time Chez Vous.

Finding Creative Freedom

Every year my sister Shannon and I sign up for Carla Sonheim‘s year-long art course. We’ve explored collage, worked through the alphabet, followed our creative spark. My art table has been covered with paints, papers and pastels as well as wires, books and stuffed animals. It’s always an adventure.

This year’s topic is Words & Pictures and the course features lessons from many different artists. This week I caught up on a class by Kara Kramer about keeping a messy notebook. The concept is to have a sketchbook in which anything goes and to dive into it for 15 minutes a day.

As I watched Kara work in her own messy journal, I was moved by her absolute lack of hesitation. With assuredness and immediacy she would grab an oil pastel and make confident marks. She would reach for a paintbrush and slap on striking colours. She’d grab a piece of paper, cut out a word or a shape and quickly glue it onto the page. Her moves were bold and instinctive. Her hand was strong.

That’s what comes form having a regular practice.

That’s what comes from being creatively free.

It’s taken me a long time to feel free with the visual arts. I had childhood art wounds that left me believing this was simply not a venue for me, Even though drawing and painting had always brought me great joy, I turned away from them for a very long time. It was only when my little niece came over and we went out for art supplies and then spent the whole day painting that a love for the visual arts rekindled inside of me*.

After that day, I slowly found my way back. It was a long, hard and frustrating road. I signed up for community art classes and would leave each night in tears, weeping out of the sheer frustration of having a desire that couldn’t find its way out of me and working with teachers that didn’t help. It was like having something I deeply want to say without having access to any words at all and it was painful.

Over the years I found better teachers, including Carla. I started to understand that it’s that unrelenting impulse to express myself that makes me an artist and the development of skills over time that makes that visible.

You don’t start out knowing how to speak.

You don’t start out knowing how to draw.

You learn.

Bit by bit, you learn.

And a part of learning is making crappy drawings and messy art. It’s not easy at first because each bit of wobbly artwork seems to affirm what your inner and outer critics have been saying for years, “You have no talent. I mean, look at that!”

This is where you must build the most powerful artistic muscle of them all: devotion. You must keep going, keep experimenting, keep learning and growing until you start to discover and recover the artist that you are meant to be. You must not give up on yourself or your art. You must find your way through.

When you do, you will remember that making a mess with paint is a blast, that playing with colour is a joy, that making marks is your birthright and you need never let any of it go.

And so it is that today, instead of crying in frustration at not having a language for my fingertips, I am here with you on a Sunday morning, eyes misty with the joy of knowing I am healed, that I can spend hours drawing and painting, making a mess or attempting something ‘finished’. The visual arts are mine and I am theirs and we will not be separated again.

Now I am delighted to have a sketchbook open on the table, to be surrounded by supplies. Now I can reach for a marker, a paintbrush, a pastel and, without hesitation, make marks on the page.

I hope that you’ll give yourself a chance to experience this too. Create a safe space for the journey, whether it’s a sketchbook, your kitchen or your backyard, to experiment, discover and grow. Find your teachers. I hope I am one of them. Weep if you need to. And heal.

Find your way back to your art. Find your way back to yourself. And once you do, never let go.

* Remember, you are the keeper of your creative fire.

You are the Keeper of Your Creative Fire

A few years ago one of my university friends made an observation about the director of our theatre program. She said, “‘X’ never saw anyone that wasn’t obvious.”

That struck a chord deep in my heart.

I was never that girl. I was the quiet one in the second row with her head down, working. I was the earnest one practicing flute, writing poetry and listening to music, creating dances in my mind. I was the shy one waiting for someone to notice me and give me a chance.

Until I wasn’t.

Even though I was quiet and shy, I had a fire inside, a creative fire, and somewhere along the line I realized that if I waited until someone saw and nurtured that in me, I could be waiting a very long time.

Maybe you’ve been waiting a very long time, waiting for someone to see your gifts, to recognize your talents, to encourage you and invite you in.

Maybe you’ve been invited in sometimes, in some ways, but not in others – and those other times have left their mark.

Maybe no one has ever recognized your creative heart and you’ve been waiting in the wings for years.

Maybe you have been noticed but unkindly, making it much better to hide your fire than to ever risk again.

But we must be who we are.

So often our world treats the arts as an extra, something you do after all your chores are done, something that is frivolous play or, if it is taken seriously at all, something that is resigned to an elite chosen few.

But what if art is a part of your soul, the very makeup of your being? Being separated from any part of yourself is damaging. When an artist is cut off from their creativity they often numb out or lash out.

When we numb out, it’s because we’ve asked the creative part of ourselves to play dead. As that part of our soul complies, more and more of who we are dulls and eventually erodes. Our life turns to grey and we find ourselves going through the motions. We wonder what’s missing and finally we forget there was ever anything else at all. After a time, we find ourselves listless, anxious, unwell. We may find ourselves crying at unexpected times. Though we have forgotten our creative fire, our body remembers and mourns.

Alternatively, we lash out. All of that creative energy needs somewhere to go. With no artistic outlet, our inner fire twists its way out of our creative soul, turning into caustic comments, snap judgements and all-around prickliness. We may still find ourselves drawn towards the arts but our creative genius weaves harsh critiques and cleverly builds airtight arguments that both attack possibility and defend the status quo. We rail against a cage of our own making.

Without the creative part of our soul, we artists find ourselves in a dark, dark place.

But we can come back to the fire. No matter how much time has past, no matter how far you have come down the road, you can return to your creative self. You can rouse the artist hidden within. You must.

Your art is waiting.

It doesn’t care how old you are.

It doesn’t care how rusty your skills.

It misses you.

It wants to be a part of your life.

So forget what anyone has ever told you. This is not about your relationship with the world. This is about your relationship with your soul. This is about devotion.

You are the keeper of your creative fire, [FIRST NAME GOES HERE].

It doesn’t have to be obvious to anyone else that you are an artist but from this day forward, let it be clear and obvious to you. Let this knowledge guide your choices and lead the way. Let the arts be your medicine. Let them reunite you with this essential part of who you are and who you will always be.

Starting today. Starting now.

Pour Your Creative Magic into Fall

Today I was out for a run and I came across this exquisite sky. I wasn’t in a pretty place or on a pretty road. Normally I would have taken the first turn onto a side street but not this day.

On this day, I kept running towards the light.

I’m aware that we’re moving into a darker season and that light is going to become ever more precious. Moments of sunlight, the glow of candles, the sparkle of twinkie lights, the luminous moon, not to mention breakthroughs of hope, moments of lightheartedness and the shining goodness in people – all of it will matter.

This will be especially true as we start to go back inside, not just as respite from the growing cold but also as, for many of us, restrictions due to COVID-19 increase once again. It’s hard not to be discouraged. This is especially true at the 6-month mark, recognized as a time when we hit the wall in a crisis.*

So how do we move forward?

I’m not here to bring back those first wave suggestions of making the most of this pandemic (i.e. write your novel, bake bread, learn a language). Most of us are depleted – physically, emotionally, mentally and/or financially. We’ve suffered loss: the loss of loved ones, jobs, community, ceremonies, experiences, intimacy and a sense of all things normal.

I’m also not here to offer a one-size-fits-all prescription for getting through this but instead I am here to encourage you to create your own. This is the perfect time to get intentional about how you want to move through the season, to remember that you have agency in the midst of it all.

In Mindful Mondays, we start each week with the magical practice of turning imagination into reality. We begin with imagining the week we want to live and then we plan how we can bring that week into being as best we can. There will always be constraints. Creative magic happens when we bring our hopes, dreams and ideas into the tangible world anyway. We work with constraints, around constraints, despite constraints, whittle away at constraints and sometimes bust through constraints.**

So despite this pandemic, or perhaps because of it, think about how you want to intentionally create this fall. Because things remain so unpredictable, make this less about specific goals and detailed plans and more about the experience you want to create and have, the energy you want to infuse into the season. This will give you much more flexibility and the power to adapt as and when things change, while giving you a strong north star or guiding constellation.

Take It To Your Journal

I want to fill my fall with… (e.g. grace, ease, love, daring, connection, art, meaning, healing, joy, impact, hygge, learning, renewal, etc.)

Brainstorm a list of possibilities in order to find what feels just right for you. Then choose one to three to be your touchstones for fall.

Some ways I might fill my fall with ________ (fill in the blank) are…

Take each touchstone you chose and come up with ways you can bring more of that energy into your season. Remember, these are possibilities not projects. The practice of generating ideas will help you stretch into the season you are looking for. It will help you recognize opportunities for joy or daring or learning when they arise. You will have a list to choose from when you have the desire and energy to do so. You’ll also have a clarity that will provide ease in decision-making. You will know to say yes to a quiet night roasting marshmallows and no to a lively community Zoom call because you have chosen to fill your fall with “Relax”. Someone else will know to choose the Zoom call because they have chosen “Connect.”

Your touchstones are unique to you. They are a unique representation of how you want to create this fall in this moment in time.

Let this exploration keep you company for the next while. Ponder. Muse. Noodle. Talk to friends and family about the kind of season they want to create. Play with ideas of how to make that real, for yourselves and for one another. Also, keep your eye out for and celebrate when things align with your intentions, including things you didn’t expect or plan (Thank you, Universe!!)

We think of creativity as something we bring to the page, to our paints and to the dance floor, something we bring to our music, our meals and our gardens. It’s something we can bring to every aspect of our lives, including the creation of our life. All the lessons we have learned through art – dedication, patience, risk-taking, vulnerability, flexibility, bravery, honesty, connection, play, initiation, response, agency, action, discernment, the list is unending — we can draw on it all to help us create our life with intention.

May you and your loved ones be safe and well, {{ subscriber.first_name }}. May you create a magnificent fall.

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.

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.