Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rituals and Routines

I lost my mojo.  It happens every now and then, and its a fairly unpleasant thing to go through. Not to worry, though.  I found it hiding in a dust cloth.

After having painted a couple of lovely little pastels, I hit a brick wall.

Now, I'm not one to give up on a painting easily.  I can wale away on a piece for a really long time before I admit I'm licked.  And I got licked twice last week. O  u  c  h.

So I did what I always do when I get stumped in my studio.  I cleaned 'er up.  Put stuff away.  Actually dug out an old towel, stuck it under the tap and wiped down just about everything I could.  (Those of you who are pastel artists know what a job that is.)
And the weird thing is, I enjoyed it.

It felt good to rearrange my brushes and put them in their proper place on the shelf.  As I dusted my tchotchkes I remembered why they were interesting enough for me to collect in the first place. (Plus, it gave me a reason to use the word "tchotchkes".)

It wasn't just cleaning this time around. It felt like something different.

In her book, "The Creative Habit", Twyla Tharp devotes an entire chapter to developing and honoring rituals.  Gail McMeekin uses several pages in her book, "12 Secrets of Highly Successful Women" to do the same. So does Julia Cameron in  "The Artist's Way".  In fact, most authors on the subject of creativity suggest creating rituals, or at least observing habits that help jump start a desired activity.  (Lest you think I'm a devoted researcher into the creative act, trust me, I'm just lookin' for short cuts.)

I've never really thought much about my rituals. I don't light candles unless I burn supper. (I have a tendency to forget  lit candles until reminded by the charming shriek of the smoke alarm.) Music goes in one ear and out the other, without spending much time in between. On a more mundane front, to me at least, reading the morning paper is simply a civilized thing to do, and getting the crossword done before noon is less a ritual than a clever plan to stave off dementia.  (I'll let you know how that's working one of, where'd I put my keys?)

So what was with the cool vibes I got with my overloaded dust rag?

Without realizing it, I have been establishing a ritual.  I realized that whenever I get stuck artistically, I dig in and dig out. I essentially wipe my slate clean. The junk I've been collecting on the desk top gets neatly put away.  The residue of paintings that put up a fight gets wiped down.  I've even been known to toss into the trash old paintings that I had come to resent.

It's not so much a routine house-cleaning as it is a spiritual cleansing of my creative space.

For the next week, I'll pay attention to my actions and see which ones are routine, and which ones are rituals.  Which parts of my day need greater attention and which actions deserve more respect.

Why don't you the same? Don't just plow through your week hoping Friday will get here sooner.  Pause.  Pay attention.  Seek out the rituals in your life, and make them routine.

@2010 P Scarborough  "New Day", 12x16 pastel


Mavis said...

Thanks for these wise words... I will follow your example and be aware of what I am doing, and see if they are routines or rituals.

As for the dusting and cleaning, I think you've got that right, too. Sweep out all those bad spirits and open the windows to fresh air and fresh ideas!

Thank you for this post - and for all the others, too!

Kate & Ryan said...

I LOVE that Twyla Tharp book! Thanks for reminding me that I have it. It's easy for me to put off both working and rituals this time of year.

Earthula said...