December is a challenging month on all fronts – professional and personal – that it can be easy to get lost in all the activity and things to be done and forget to look after yourself. All this month on the blog I’m going to be taking self-care as my inspiration and looking at ways you can look after yourself a little better. I’m going to be sharing ideas for finding energy and preparing for the new year in your creative practice, and suggesting ways to support your mental wellbeing. No matter how much you’ve got going on with work and family this month, the goal is to reach January feeling fresh and ready for the new year, not exhausted and in need of recuperation.
Today I’d like to think about one of the most important elements of sustaining your creative practice: gathering.
December is not a month for starting new things. There isn’t time, there are too many other things that need to be attended to, and your energy will not be focused. But, although it may not be the right time for new beginnings, it is the perfect time for planting seeds that will grow later on. It’s vital that you keep taking things in and make time to be inspired.
I find this particularly difficult. Over the winter I tend to hibernate and withdraw. I don’t feel like getting out much and I can usually find ten good reasons not to do things that might be nice for me, but aren’t essential to my daily life. And so, activities that I might find easier to do the rest of the year (visit galleries, go for a wander, a trip to the cinema or theatre) rarely feature in my diary. And, as I’m not really getting any input from other sources (unless binge watching Mrs Maisel on Amazon counts) my creative well is drying up, which is not great. Taking inspiration from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, I have often tried to do her practice of the ‘Artist Date’:
As artists, we must learn to be self-nourishing. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them. I call this process filling the well. Filling the well involves the active pursuit of images to refresh our artistic reservoirs. … We feed it images. Art is an artist-brain pursuit. The artist brain is our image brain, home and haven to our best creative impulses. The artist brain cannot be reached – or triggered – effectively by words alone. The artist brain is the sensory brain: sight and sound, smell and taste, touch. These are the elements of magic, and magic is the elemental stuff or aft. In filing the well, think magic. Think delight. Think fun. Do not think duty. Do not do what you should do- spiritual situ ups like reading a dull but recommended critical text. Do what intrigues you, explore what interests you; think mystery not mastery.
Oh dear. I am completely guilty of expecting words to be enough. And, I usually justify going out and doing things as being part of work, of something useful, something I ‘should do’. Why is it so hard to do things for fun, for the magic? Even harder in December, which is a month when we focus on everyone else first.
So, I enlist help. If I won’t make the effort myself, then I will need support from other people, people who make leaving the house easy, people who I want to spend time with. I am lucky that I have a couple of people I can always rely on who seem to be interested in going to a show, or who are themselves off to do something I would never have thought about, that I can tag along to. These people are my enablers, and they save my creative life at this time of year. But, it’s not a one-way street, I’m not just taking advantage of their good nature, they themselves may be looking to do something, or appreciate hearing about something they have missed, which I have noticed. Combined, we have a nice trip out, a chance to focus on something other than our daily lives and work, to have good conversations, tea and some cake, and we leave feeling satisfied that we’ve done our creative selves good. It’s a nice symbiosis.
I often feel guilty that in asking people to join me I am bothering them – after all it is December, and people are busy. But, what I’ve noticed is that other people are often feeling this way too, wanting to carve out a tiny bit of time for themselves, for something to support their creativity, but they don’t feel they can justify it on their own. When I ask them I take some of that guilt away, because they are helping me, and helping always feels good.
My question to you, then, is this – who are the people in your life you can enlist to support you in your quest to be inspired this month? Who would love, just as much as you, to get out and experience something different, something non work or Christmas-related? What small things can you do to keep your creative well topped up?