creativity and fear

Elizabeth Gilbert on Creativity and Fear

Elizabeth Gilbert on how/where she found the courage and faith to keep writing before she was well-known:

The simple answer is a stubborn and ferocious commitment
to always choose creativity over fear and a recognition that they’re conjoined twins and they kind of limp along together. Fear will not be separated from creativity, and I don’t ask it to. Because I know that they’re sort of next to each other all the time and I just talk to it… I talk to it, that’s what I’ve always done my whole life, I talk to it and I acknowledge it and I treat it with respect and I say “I know that your job is to be terrified and try to make me terrified and you’re doing it great, thank you! Well done! And I respect your right to exist and I know you’re part of this and you can come with us on this journey that I’m taking with creativity but I need you to understand that you will not be making any decisions. But you’re welcome to join us.”

I just recently discovered the NYPL Podcast, a collection of audio recordings of NYPL events, and I’m working my way through the archives. This was from a really awesome conversation between Elizabeth Gilbert and Ann Patchett back in March.

So worth a listen.

not a newsletter

A September issue

I won’t lie, I’m a bit sad that it’s September. I mean I love the fact that, in my world, September is jam-packed with new beginnings (New school term! Fresh school supplies! Brand new students! Campus is abuzz!), but the end of summer inevitably brings me down. If I could live in endless summer, I would.

But that has nothing at all to do with the rest of this post which, as you will see, is thematically all over the map. There are donkeys, balloons, feminists, cats, and Elena Ferrante. But that’s about all life needs, isn’t it?

Let’s just get this out of the way right up front because it would be cruel to keep dwarf donkeys from you for a second longer. That’s right, dwarf donkeys! (via Two Bossy Dames)

Because I can’t write one of these posts without mentioning some productivity tool or another, today I’m talking about Bullet Journal. It’s an analogue note-taking/list-making/omni-organizing system that’s been around for a bit that I tried for the first time last year, abandoned, retried a few months ago, and am now an avowed devotee of. It is My New Favourite Thing. There are a tonne of resources about the Bullet Journalling system out there (don’t google it unless you’re looking for a rabbit hole to crawl into), but one hack that’s working particularly well for me are the “focus pages” and “waiting lists” described in this post.

Speaking of rabbit holes, I’d happily fess up to how much time I spent poring over the Dear Data archives, but I literally lost track. Such a cool project. (via Doodlers Anonymous)

That #‎FindTheGirlsOnTheNegatives‬ story is fascinating. No updates in a few weeks and it’s killing me. (via The Jealous Curator)

Uncovered Classics reviews classic books by female authors, with covers reimagined by contemporary illustrators. All my buttons? Hit! (via Yelena Bryksenkova, who illustrated one of the titles!)

Have you read the Neapolitan novels yet? I’ve read the first and I loved it very, very much (the second is queued up on my to-read shelf). Given the crazy popularity of the series, Elena Ferrante’s anonymity is kind of endearing, isn’t it? And this letter from her to her Italian publisher makes it even more so. (via Ann Friedman)

The answer is 30 seconds if the question is how long did it take you to add the titles from this list of novels inspired by art to your to-read/artlit shelf on Goodreads? (via Emily Jeffords)

Covent Garden market got filled with these stunning, ethereal white balloons mere days after we were strolling through its halls!

Let’s go out on a high-note with Felines of New York, which may be the funniest thing I’ve seen on the Internet in forever. And if you’re already a fan of the human counterpart that inspired it, then it definitely is.

Books read from Feb to July 2015

My reading year (so far)

I haven’t done a monthly book review run-down since January, you guys! Oof. While I have been reading quite a bit (in fits and starts, mostly, but it’s added up), I stopped jotting down quick reviews on Goodreads when I finished a book, so that’s meant no reviews here either. Instead of an epic post recapping all 25 books I’ve read since January, how about a quick list of my favourites so far?

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
I found this book every bit as absorbing as everyone said it is. I mean who doesn’t love a good post-apocalyptic tale?

All My Puny Sorrows, Miriam Toews
This book is brilliant and devastating and just superb. It might have supplanted A Complicated Kindness as my favourite Toews.

Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
For some reason, this felt like the novel version of Serial, season 1. I mean, there are obvious parallels in the storylines but something about the way Ng built the tension in such an engaging way reminded me of Sarah Koenig’s storytelling. Anyway, tenuous comparisons aside, this was a really well-written story.

My Salinger Year, Joanna Rakoff
Such a delightful memoir about Rakoff’s first job — as an assistant in a New York publishing house that just happens to be J.D. Salinger’s publisher. So, so good.

Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit
This might be My Rebecca Solnit Year. No, I don’t work for her publisher. But I have read three of her books in 5 months and I’ve loved every one of them (the others: The Faraway Nearby and A Field Guide to Getting Lost).

Bad Feminist: Essays, Roxane Gay
I don’t quite know how to explain it but the first time I picked up this book, I got about 10 pages in and abandoned it. I have no idea why. The second time, I practically devoured it. Roxane Gay is one of my favourite feminists. (Everyone has favourite feminists, right?)

Goals, the Real Talk™ edition

I started this year with some goals. I tried to be deliberately un-goal-y about them, as in, hey, these are just some things I’d like to work on this year, in an attempt to trick myself into not getting all hung up on them being Goals. But, really, in my mind they were always goals. The trick failed.

A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?

I had this quote displayed in my room as a teenager. I half liked it and half felt pressured by it to set goals. Damn that Browning. (p.s. what about a woman’s grasp?)

I have a complicated relationship with goals. Conventional wisdom states that goals are a good thing — they’re helpful, they keep you on track, and without them, you risk turning into a floundering mess. But, the truth is, I’m not good with goals. I mean, yes, I’ve been trained to honour the conventional wisdom and set and pursue goals for myself, but every time I do, it invariably backfires. As in: goals I set for myself don’t end up motivating me, instead they lead to some weird paralysis. Which leads to inaction. Which leads to disappointment. Which leads to me beating myself up for not reaching my goals. See how that works? It’s crappy.

Last year was so great, creatively. I really locked in on a daily practice that totally worked for me and motivated me. So when the new year rolled in, I really wanted to keep that momentum going and I thought setting some goals would be the best way to do that. By now you know where this is going — all those goals? Pretty much failed at all of them. Let’s recap!

  • First there was 3x5x52. I was so keen on this one! So full of ideas and enthusiasm, overflowing with both vim and vigour. I made it to 8 weeks and all those ideas, all that vim, all of it just ran out. I was bored. And I felt really limited by that tiny canvas (ironic, considering that, going in, I thought 3×5 just made it more approachable).
  • Then there was all the people I met today.  I loved drawing all those people last year, and detailing their stories. I still do it sometimes, but not with any regularity, which is what I miss the most.
  • And then there was Project 365, my picture-a-day goal. On day 94, I posted my last picture and it’s an apt one — I’d just started a series of paintings on panels and it’s all I wanted to spend my time on. So I quietly (and guiltily) ditched Project 365.
  • Of course, as it happened, day 95 was when #The100DayProject started, something else that kept me focused and motivated last year. So I thought hopping on that bandwagon would result in another success, and it made me feel better about ditching Project 365. Except this time I got as far as day 37 when work/life threatened to overwhelm me, so I let #The100DayProject go.

That’s quite a bit of failure. And I didn’t even mention the interviews for Sunday Artist, Monday Librarian that are in various stages of completion and the 34 ideas for Occurrences of Self-Discovery that are squirrelled away in an evernote, waiting to be drawn.

But, hey, they’re not failures if I learn from them, right? (I’m thanking/blaming my recently ramped up, daily yoga practice for all this gratuitous positivity). And from this mess of creative failures I’ve learned a few things. I’ve learned that I do a lot better without narrowly-defined goals. I’ve learned that I get far more mileage when I give myself the freedom to just go where the inspiration takes me. I’ve learned that as long as I make time to be creative in some way everyday, I will feel like I’m accomplishing something. And I’ve learned that those tiny accomplishments will fuel me through another day.

How art made me a better librarian

how art made me a better librarianSo I made this bold claim during a talk I gave a few weeks ago, at the SUNYLA annual conference. The theme of the conference was “the art of librarianship” and a few months ago they asked if I’d be interested in speaking broadly on that topic. I’ll be honest: I haven’t done much presenting in the last few years, for a bunch of different reasons. But as soon as I heard the topic on this one, I sort of jumped all over it.

Back when I used to present really often, conference prep usually began between 72-48 hours before go-time. The youth and folly that enabled that sort of procrastination and last-minute frenzy has long passed and nowadays, I begin preparing for presentations weeks in advance (#adultinglikeaboss). This one I started working on about 8 weeks before the conference because I knew I wanted to draw the whole thing.

While it took at least twice as long as I expected to draw/handletter every slide, I had a tonne of fun doing it. Not only because, well, drawing, but also because this was probably the most personal presentation I’ve ever done and I really got to tell the story of how the last year and a half of focussing on creativity has impacted my work life as much as it’s informed my creative practice.

Here’s a 50-second flavour of the kinds of things I talked about:

I owe a hat-tip of considerable gratitude to Austin Kleon whose books on creativity directly account for two of the five “lessons” I shared in my presentation. Of course there were also quite a few other books and a load of podcasts (not to mention countless articles, blog posts, instagram/twitter friends, etc.) that have been hugely influential, so there was ample evidence of those sprinkled throughout my presentation, too.

Of course the biggest thank you goes to the SUNLYA folks for having me (and humouring me as I made them sit through an hour of great self-indulgence).