Another week begins

This morning I was all geared up for a productive work day, but then life interfered and my day was off to a late start. I spent the entire morning after that running errands (which was productive, just not creatively). By the time I got home and had lunch, I didn’t feel like doing anything except sit by the sliding glass doors. So I parked myself there with a big pile of magazines (many of them obtained for a quarter apiece, or for free, at the El Cerrito library this morning — must remember that libraries are good sources of old magazines) and just ripped out pages. Then I chopped them with the paper cutter — found out that this is less awkward on my back if I kneel in front of the coffee table — and cut them all up with scissors. By the time I finished all this, I was feeling well up to beginning some real work, like starting on that decoupaged quilt-mandala I’ve been wanting to do, but it was 5:30 and time to prepare dinner. This annoyed me, but Erik and I made a good dinner, and after we finished and I did some planting, I managed to get in about forty-five minutes of culling scraps to use in the quilt-mandala.

Erik remarked, when I was complaining about not having gotten much done today, that nobody’s making me get TONS done every single day. He’s right, of course, and I certainly do more now than I ever did. And since cutting collage scraps is boring work, it’s better I do it on a day like this than on a day when I feel energetic and imaginative. I guess I just had such plans for this day, and am disgruntled because they didn’t materialize — but hey, that’s a lesson in itself. My work is nonlinear. My progress is nonlinear. The practice is what’s important.

It occurs to me now that my frustration at not getting more done in a day stems from one of these upbringing-induced paradigms that has dominated my life for so long I don’t even know it’s there. Like so many other parents, Mommy has two modes: support mode and criticize mode. When she’s in the former mode, she won’t hear a word said against me and completely doesn’t realize that sometimes she’s the speaker of said words. When she’s in the latter, she tells me this: I do not work hard, I have never worked hard, I’ve been spoiled all my life, I’m not one of those people who does great things (except possibly in academia), my life is too easy, someone like me can’t make art, art is a hobby only, etc etc. Having been told this all my life, when I come across a day like today — when I don’t fulfill my to-do list and therefore get less done than I know I’m capable of — I don’t think, as I would about anyone else in the same situation, “Oh, I was just having an off-day, but that happens. Creative work happens on its own schedule and according to its own rules. I didn’t waste any part of the day doing nothing; I kept the juices flowing as much as possible, and that counts.” Instead, I think: “It’s me. I’m not doing enough. I’m not accomplished enough. Just like always, I’m taking it too easy and not working hard. I’m just coasting and playing around.” Instead of acknowledging what I accomplished and learned today, noting today’s work as part of a larger pattern (my work style), I turn the critical eye inward and chastise myself for what I didn’t do (and, by implication, should have done, because that’s what a hard worker would have done).

The ruthless thing about this paradigm is that there’s no way to appease it. If I worked a 14-hour day, my inner critic would tell me I wasn’t being serious because I didn’t work an 18-hour day. If I worked an 18-hour day, my inner critic would scold me for sleeping at all if I was on a roll, because serious artists sacrifice themselves to their work. The only way to silence these internal bullies is to see them and acknowledge them as just that, bullies, not authorities. When I have an off-day like today — I shouldn’t even call it an off-day, since I did get stuff done, just not flashy stuff; maybe I should call it a passive work day, or a grunt-work day? a prep-work day? — and my inner critic says, “You should have done more!” I can say, “I’ll call the shots here, not you, and I say today I accomplished this and this and this.” If that won’t shut up the bully, it’ll at least place me in charge and acknowledge my progress, and that’s an improvement over letting the bully take over my mind.