Sunday, June 12, 2016

Rising From The Swamplands

There are lots of different ways of getting lost. Some of them are fun - like "squirrel " moments where we get off course following a new activity or trend. Some of them are caused by seeing something bright and shiny just off the path that we have to check out - I call these "crow mind" moments. Some of them are restoritive like a meandering drive in the country on a Sunday afternoon.

But often the road of life sends us around a curve and we find ourselves in the middle of a swamp full of hungry alligators and no  map to guide us out. There is quicksand to the left, snapping teeth to the right, smelly bog in front and no trail back. I don't know about you but when I hit a patch like this I can get really mired in the muds of despair, especially if the weather is bad and distressing news just keeps on coming. I've had a winter like that. I got a little lost and really blue and I have been struggling to get my bearings back.
I like to learn from my mistakes so this last few weeks, as I began to feel a bit stronger, a bit more able to deal with all the bad news, I've been thinking about what I did wrong and what I did right. I haven't handled things as well as I would have liked but I have handled things. I'm not being hard on myself - I'm just being honest.

What I  Did Wrong

I should have let relatively unimportant things go and found time for my personal art no matter what. I know that the work I do with my hands is good for my soul and that it is often the way that the strength of my faith has the time to wrap around me. When my hands are busy creating I find peace. I should have let housework and busywork go even more than I have. I should have eaten out more and made do with more healthy prepared foods. I should have but I didn't.

And when I wasn't creating I got behind on my comittments to the FB groups I belong to, the very groups that inspire and motivate me. And the more I got behind the harder it got to catch up. I should have forgotten about the missed weeks and just jumped back in where I was. I've done that this week and already I feel better. I've also finished pages that were started in simpler ways than originally planned. Just working in my journals and puddling about with the tools has been good for me.

I took on lots of work this winter and I got trapped in the worry cycle. You know the one. You worry about it, dream about it, fuss over it. Then you finally snap yourself out of it, get the work done and then you think "That wasn't so bad." Worry, overthinking, worst-case-scenario living...I keep trying to give it up. I need to remember how exciting and invigorating the work is for me, how the energy of the students is restorative and inspiring and stop worrying about showing up for class unprepared.

What I Did Right

I swam. When curling ended winter should have. But it didn't. It got grey, it got cold, it got inhospitable outside and I couldn't go for walks. I needed to move. I complained, I kvetched. And then a place became available to swim. So I stretched and swam and I felt better inside and out.

When all other creative work wasn't happening I started a simple little journal that I call my Blues Book. I just used graphite, a micron and a blue Stabilo water soluble pencil in it, at least at first. When I couldn't face colour or collage or all the other fun stuff I usually like to play with, I turned to it each night and just tangled and lettered in a simple way. Looking through it I am pretty happy with where that intuitive work is leading me. But even if the work wasn't any good I learned a few important things. First, to keep working even if it is really simple work. Second, in sharing my work and the feelings behind it, I have touched other lives and helped others find a way forward. Which leads me to the other thing I have done right...

I've shared my feelings with close friends and looked for ways of connecting with people rather than retreating. This is hard for me. I'm one of those bears that likes to go into their cave and suffer in silence. I am blessed with good friends who are good listeners and I am blessed with good friends who are creatives and who are happy to come and play with me even when I am a grouch. Laughter and tea are good therapy especially when mixed with colours and "what if we tried this" moments. And so is being reminded that things will look better tomorrow, or the next day, or the next...

What I Want to Know

We all get the blues. What I want to know is what you do when you lose the trail and get stuck. I think we need to talk about this more and be aware that we aren't alone in feeling this way. That would help. I'd like to have a tool kit of ideas to keep handy for when it happens again and to share with you and my students. So lets start the conversation here. Tell me what you do to move forward, to see the world in a rosier hue and leave the blues behind.


  1. Cherryl, when I have days like that, I do linework. Simple mindless linework. I don't have to think up patterns or color - just draw lines. But I always watch what others are doing. Little by little their work inspires me and I can feel that lack of creation lifting. I must say that your work is so inspiring to me - I think my emails to you have shown that. I totally filled a small journal after Tangle U with work inspired by your books. So you might think about how your work inspires us to help you cope with what is ailing.

  2. First of all, this is being written by Angela Werner, not Morgan, who is my husband. I didn't realize that I had signed into the computer under his name and I don't want to re-write the post.
    I love what you wrote, Cherryl, because it verbalizes so well what all of us feel sooner or later or in different degrees constantly. What you did correctly, is helpful for all of us - 1.exercise,2. get back to the basics - simple work, 3. stop procrastinating and dive in and I add 4. eat good food which eliminates the junk blues. For me, this winter was also particularly difficult because I made the decision to stop teaching Z! Tomorrow I'll teach my last class. (I won't go into all the reasons for that decision because I would have to write a small book to address all the reasons...) But the decision was and is painful even though it is, I think, the right decision for me right now. Change is full of complexity and pros and cons. But, change leads to new roads and now I'm crocheting shawls for people who are sick or grieving, I'm hemming woven materials created by the blind and making sandwiches for the homeless in Hartford. All new activities within the last month!!! I know that creating anything for me is the key to feeling good. It just lifts my spirit especially when I have such a supportive group who are always ready to be encouraging. I know that the less art I create, the harder it is to create and the worse I feel. What I need to do is JUST GET STARTED. The work WILL pull me in and out of my blues. Know that I look forward to your posts and enjoy every single one. Thanks for doing so much for so many!!!

  3. My salvation when the blanket wraps me in a funk and I finally realize the problem I go work with children. They laugh, smile, make crazy faces, and most important the are so open with wonder in their eye I can't help but feel the sunshine enter. If I'm unable to work with children then I don't know why, but a library brings me the peace to put all my ducks in a row.
    This post was great. Of course all your posts make me think and grow.

  4. It happens to me too... I darg myself (kicking and screaming sometimes) out of the hous to hit nature... Easy to find a beach to walk on out here... And inevitably I start collecting interesting rocks, shells, driftwood... And then I sit and think about how to learn to let go of the ways I beat myself up for not being perfect... To focus on the joys, not the regrets... The gift of life.. Its hard... But sometimes just breathing and letting myself be is enough.
    And then when I get home I tackle one small thing that I can look at and pat myself on the back for accomplishing:-) ...
    I have a couple of good driends I connect with...
    I pat the dog...
    I think about the people who tell me I make a difference...
    I begin again...
    And understand that this human journey is a complicated one...
    But I am not alone.
    Thanks for this blog, Cherryl.. Inspired!

  5. I think I have more comments than answers but there may be some good fodder for thinking, and this is what this is mostly about, the thinking. I know we all go through somewhat different kinds of blues and deep crevices. I have pages and pages in my personal biographical journals sprinkled here and there lamenting the time periods missing between writings, but I have made a personal discovery for myself that might apply to others. First, I know that even when I am not creating, I am thinking about creating, sort of like putting my brain on sabbatical. I have come up with ideas for art that turned out well and sometimes even into classes that took over a two to stir around in my brain. So I believe while my hands are at rest, the wheels are actually being very productive upstairs. I wake up with more good ideas on days that I am creating than I go to bed with, so I know the value of rest in different ways. When I am not creating and start thinking negative things, reading quotes is helpful. It puts things in perspective. On the lowest days, I remind myself how lucky I am that I am not doing whatever my dread for the day/week/time period is in Afghanistan or some other bad setting and that I have made it through 100% of every day I have been offered so far. Those always help my creativity flow. I know for me that there is a huge difference in work I do when "the muse" is talking magic in my ear than when I do just to do. So sometimes I just accept and wait and be patient. The thing I still do wrong even though I know I should not is think about what other people think about my "stuff." I hate when I do something I love and then feel others just don't get it, and likewise when I try to follow a prompt and produce something I feel is dreadful but others compliment it. I want to do what I consider my style.
    Please know that everything you do inspires me. I appreciate all you do for our group as well as things you post in other places. It makes me want to improve and continue on. Bless you for being so honest and in doing so helping others.

  6. Hi Cherryl,
    Thanks for sharing this. I know that it was difficult. We don't like to expose our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. I have three dear friends who are more like brothers to me. I confide in them and they pray with me and for me. I also find reading the Psalms very comforting. There are also books that I return to periodically that are like comfort food. Please, consider me a support if you ever need it. I'm here for you. (585)781-4574

  7. Well that was a wonderful read, I'm sure many of thought you were writing about us, the reader, the creative! It's good and comforting to know that in the process of getting lost we are not alone. I think as creatives there is another level of the mental path that takes good and bad turns depending on the atmosphere or environment we find ourselves in. And sometimes it's very hard to put that into words.
    When I find myself in those blue hours, days or weeks there are things I do to coax myself out and into a happier place. I have boxes of old treasures (ie. Things that have moved with me throughout my life) there are some knick-knacks, letters, photos, old watches, ticket stubs.... I go through the boxes thinking I will de clutter, but I find myself laughing or crying over the memories... And every time there are different memories!!! Those treasures and the time spent with them is a reminder of where my life has been and where and what I've done and that I've gotten through lots of stuff and I will continue. I tuck the lid back in the box with a smile and know that I will be ok... Until the next time I need the box.
    I also find myself in the kitchen baking. If I am creatively in the blues ( uninspired, mental block, overwhelmed with groups, deadlines, and self-critical) I know that my hands will still create and that there is no pressure with a good chocolate chip cookie recipe!!! And the bonus is it makes the household happy!! I eat a few cookies and make a good stron cup of tea and again realize that I am ok and I am capable, maybe not the way my mind thought I would be but that other ways of doing and being are ok to. Learning to let go of the "plan" and go with the "flow" is a lesson I am getting better at learning.
    And the beginning of your post Cherryl, where you write about wandering.... I have bought myself a bracelet that has the "not all those that wander are lost" quote inscribed on it as a reminder that when I'm not doing or dealing with what I should be (according to who??) I am just processing and will find my way. Thank you for being an inspiration in so many ways Cherryl!!

  8. Oh Cherryl, Thank you for sharing this with us all. AND what a wonderful bunch of comments above. Most of us look to you for guidance and creative excellence and to know that you, like all of us, wander off the path into a "blue journal" now and then reminds us of how we are all so much alike.

    I thought the comments the readers above gave were amazingly wonderful. I ended up making a list for myself, actually, of the ways they thought to share with you of how to survive and endure and perhaps cure the blues.
    Create (art, cooking, knitting, etc), consider some changes, give to others, exercise, find children to spend time with, spend time in nature, pray, return to good books, eat healthy comfort food like delicious tea, and remember that "not all that wander are lost". WHAT an amazing list is this?
    My own thought is something you've already thought of. And that is "share" your feelings. Write or call friends or family and let them know that you need some support. Tell your journal blog group, call that special friend or write back and forth, keep a journal (as you did)
    I also think it's important to get good rest during this time. That is not always easy. BUT if you can exercise that helps you rest and some sleepy time teas at bedtime help.

  9. Like you, I need to get outside. That's easy April through October/November; I walk, cycle and muck about in the garden. Somehow the combination of physical activity and outdoor air keep me grounded and calm. Ironically, when the outdoors are less inviting and the mid-winter blues begin to close in, I find live music (often "the blues) gives me a lift. It's the atmosphere created by a room full of music lovers caught up in the aha of the artist as much as it is the music.
    I did a piece of art years ago that echoed this: "Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life" - Auerbach.
    For years I have said, "Music feeds me." It reenergizes and recharges my battery.


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