I’ve started waking up early each morning to do creative work for one hour before allowing the rest of the day to make its demands on me. It sounds simple enough, but it’s been a profound experience. No matter how the rest of the day goes, I’ve spent one hour drawing or writing, which builds a foundation of satisfaction, pride, and joy that the rest of the day balances upon.
For example, one Tuesday morning I drew a scene for a book. I smiled all alone here in the basement because it’s so satisfying, and often surprising, to see the images transform when I add color. After an hour, I climbed the steps up to the kitchen, opened the door, and faced the day.
By 5:15pm that evening, after a day of commuting, traffic, aggravating news, and sixteen different household tasks demanding my attention, I am making dinner. I have to leave at 5:40pm, and not only is dinner not ready, smoke starts to pour out of the oven just as a drawer sticks and refuses to close so I keep slamming my leg into it, and a pot of pasta boils over adding sticky steam to the oily smoke.
In the past, this would have me UNDONE! I’d be swearing, stomping my feet (truly), and feeling very sorry for myself. I don’t like admitting this, but it’s true. For a few years now, that’s been my initial reaction. To my over-tasked, tired, stressed out mind, this problematic moment meant the world conspired against me, kept me from doing my art, pulled me away from anything I wanted to do creatively because by the time the day, the tasks, the needs, the demands were all done (and they are never done), I was too exhausted to draw or write.
But now, not only did I handle the steam-smoke-drawer with a smile on my face and only one pg-rated cuss word, I did not feel defeated. Instead of The Big Problem in the Kitchen Keeping Trista Away from Art, it felt like one more thing to manage…like one block stacked among all the other blocks of the day that already included creative work.
Or, believe it or not, just two days later, instead of spending two hours in the afternoon on creative work as planned, I came down to the basement to find water from the washing machine rapidly spreading and pooling all over the floor.
Again, in the past, this would have me feeling sad, defeated, and overwhelmed. And yes, the problem ate up my two hours of creative time and more, and no I did not know how to fix it, but having that foundation of morning creative work helped me be calm and feel almost capable. What I don’t understand is why. Why did creative work help fix the washer?
Fixing the problem didn’t involve pens or paper or drafting an essay, in fact, it included some brainstorming and muscle from my spouse, advice and supplies at the local hardware store, and some serious stamina and stick-to-it-ness from me. But for reasons I guess I can’t quite spell out here, I was able to do this–fix the washing machine!!–because of that morning hour of creative work.
You could say writing and drawing are forms of problem solving. I mean…you figure out how to go from blank page to story, or blank page to recognizable and pleasing image. But I’ve been writing and drawing my entire life, and also for my entire life, I have NOT been much of a fix-it-yourself kind of person. I’m really good at fretting. At catastrophizing. At what-if-ing. Of looking around for some other capable person to solve it. I’m practical and often brave, too, so if no one else shows up to handle things, then I do it. But I don’t think problem solving is what my morning hour gives me.
I think it has to do with recognizing my hopes and dreams and giving them some attention, nurturing them with one quiet, uninterrupted hour each day. Putting them first. Which sounds selfish. Just writing that short sentence, “Putting them first” is difficult. And yet, I think it helps me be a better person.
Maybe our hopes and dreams are our foundation, like the roots of a plant. You notice it looking droopy, you water it, and awhile later, it’s glowing. Giving myself one hour is like nourishing the roots. Whatever comes next, the heart of me is somewhat armored from all the other stuff gnawing at my energy and chipping away at my efforts to have a positive attitude.
There are far worse things than broken appliances. Sometimes life is a full barrage of heart ache. And yet, that one hour of art pushes back the wreckage, opens up a little space of light, and buoys hope. It lays the groundwork for things to get better.