That was fast: a first amendment to my Art of Life Handbook!

Yesterday I posted my life-art handbook, which sets guidelines for how I want to live my life and approach my work. I love the handbook, but as I pointed out in the post,  the work section of the handbook is not as fleshed out as other areas. This is how it looked when I wrote it, over the weekend:

When I work:

  • I cultivate lifelong fulfillment and self-expression, and raise global awareness.
  • I know which of my projects are most important to me, and which are most urgent. I know where I currently stand in all my projects.
  • I draw and paint regularly, for my own pleasure and to make it easier to express my vision.
  • I write regularly, for myself (morning pages) and on my projects.
  • I blog regularly, to build an audience for my work and to keep myself accountable and supported.
  • I read regularly, for my own enjoyment and to enrich my projects.

It’s not bad, but it’s not very specific, which reflects my own feelings about “my work” as a vague undefined entity. I didn’t think it would be easy to turn those feelings around, but yesterday I sat down with a list I’d made last week — enumerating all the anxiety, self-doubt, and “shoulds” that fill my mind when I think about my work — and went through it, item by item. I thought it would be a helpful exercise but I didn’t expect it to bring as much clarity as it did.

I realized that “my work” seems nebulous to me because I’ve been defining it by other people’s ideas. I thought “work” or “art” had to be a certain way, and so I was unconsciously trying to live up to those standards — without ever really thinking about whether those standards matched my own. There were so many questions on my list that started with “How can I call myself a writer if I’m not doing ___?” or “How can I call myself an artist when I ____?” I wrote out my fears so I could see what they really were, no matter how silly or how huge. I don’t think any of us do this often enough — there is such power in naming the things that scare us. Thoughts are insidious and attack unexpectedly from all sides; words meet us face to face in a scheduled rendezvous. When I saw my fears in words, I could call my inner wisdom to my aid, like a strong friend at my side, showing me the weak spots of my enemies. And it turned out those scary thoughts and words, though they put on an excellent show, were weak indeed. They weren’t real. I hadn’t made them and I didn’t believe in them, I had only borrowed them from other people. When I saw that, I found the ability to push them away.

In rejecting those other ideas about what constitutes creative legitimacy, I began to ask what my own definition was. I’d thought about this before, but I’d never openly given myself the space to define my own standards. When I did, I uncovered all kinds of commitments that were there just below the surface. The commitments were so strong, I could hardly believe I had never known them before… but I had never asked. Because I’d been relying on other people’s guidelines, I’d felt like I couldn’t trust my own. And because I couldn’t trust myself, I had to turn to others. But the whole point of being an artist is knowing my own creative instincts and expressing my own unique voice. Unless I trust myself fully, that self-knowledge and self-expression can never happen.

Here is the revised section of the handbook, based on a new model of self-trust and honoring my own commitments.

When I work:

  • I cultivate lifelong fulfillment and self-expression, and raise global awareness.
  • As long as I feel a commitment to writing and to art, I will call myself a writer and artist. It’s my declaration to make, and I stand strong in it. The only thing that can make me less of a writer or artist is if I don’t feel that commitment anymore.
  • My commitments determine what’s important to me in my projects. They help me guide myself according to my own vision and no one else’s.
  • Nothing is urgent unless I believe it is. Nothing is required unless I think it will help me grow. I set my own guidelines based on what feels right to me, and I trust that I will meet my commitments and touch on them regularly enough to keep momentum and thoroughly explore my interests and my skills.
  • I commit to visual arts as a means of expressing those visions that come to me in dreams and in my waking hours. I commit to the fullest possible development of my ability to express those visions — in all their strangeness and individuality — via drawing, painting, sequential art, or whatever media necessary, and through exploration of other artists and their work, and anything else that piques my interest.
  • I commit to developing my writing as a means of self-expression, to convey ideas, and to build community and a feeling of shared experience. I commit to regular reading to let others’ ideas and words wash over me. I commit to regular and fully honest writing, on my blog, privately, and elsewhere as I see fit.
  • Creating and editing are different processes. I do not allow value judgments to touch my creativity. Critique and editing come afterward, in the revision stage or later.

Much, much stronger, no? (Scroll back up to the top to compare with the former version.) Instead of the work section being the weak link in an otherwise awesome guide, I now think the work section is the most powerful, and a great example for how to continue revising the rest of the handbook! I also added a line to the play section, so here’s the revised handbook in its entirety. 

Satsumabug’s Life-Art Handbook
Created and revised March 2011

What do you want?
I want to be happy, in the moment and for life.

Ground Rules
To be happy:

  • I am attuned to myself, as well as connected with the world around me.
  • I have ample time for both work and play.
  • I enjoy an uncluttered home, a growing garden, my relationship with Erik, time with Lyapa, and my beautiful body.

To feel balanced (not overwhelmed):

  • I do one thing at a time, whenever possible.
  • I know what’s important during any given hour, day, week, or month. I have articulated my goals and my priorities, and I re-articulate them whenever necessary. I discard what’s not important to me.
  • I know the difference between importance and urgency. I know what needs to be done now, and everything else can wait its turn.
  • I don’t over-schedule or over-commit myself. I take on only what I can handle and what matters to me.
  • I don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I do only what I need to, realizing that saying no to some things means saying yes to what I most want.
  • I thoughtfully choose how to spend my time; time does not spend me. I know what I’m trading off.
  • I ignore all “shoulds” and listen only to my internal guide.

Ways to connect with the world

  • I blog, and read and comment on selected other blogs.
  • I take appropriate-length time to email the people I appreciate.
  • I make and take appropriate-length phone calls from loved ones.
  • I spend time with family and friends, when I want to and only for as long as I want to.
  • I regularly spend time outdoors.
  • I choose mindful outings at regular intervals.

Ways to connect with myself

  • I enjoy some quiet and still time, every day.
  • I spend time with my body, listening to her needs and desires, and nurturing her.
  • I eat mindfully and with enjoyment.
  • I move my body joyfully and regularly.
  • I present myself to the world in ways that make me feel at ease and at my most beautiful.
  • I choose activities I love.
  • I cultivate happiness.

When I work:

  • I cultivate lifelong fulfillment and self-expression, and raise global awareness.
  • As long as I feel a commitment to writing and to art, I will call myself a writer and artist. It’s my declaration to make, and I stand strong in it. The only thing that can make me less of a writer or artist is if I don’t feel that commitment anymore.
  • My commitments determine what’s important to me in my projects. They help me guide myself according to my own vision and no one else’s.
  • Nothing is urgent unless I believe it is. Nothing is required unless I think it will help me grow. I set my own guidelines based on what feels right to me, and I trust that I will meet my commitments and touch on them regularly enough to keep momentum and thoroughly explore my interests and my skills.
  • I commit to visual arts as a means of expressing those visions that come to me in dreams and in my waking hours. I commit to the fullest possible development of my ability to express those visions — in all their strangeness and individuality — via drawing, painting, sequential art, or whatever media necessary, and through exploration of other artists and their work, and anything else that piques my interest.
  • I commit to developing my writing as a means of self-expression, to convey ideas, and to build community and a feeling of shared experience. I commit to regular reading to let others’ ideas and words wash over me. I commit to regular and fully honest writing, on my blog, privately, and elsewhere as I see fit.
  • Creating and editing are different processes. I do not allow value judgments to touch my creativity. Critique and editing come afterward, in the revision stage or later.

When I play:

  • I cultivate happiness and a sense of abundance and adventure. I tune in to myself.
  • I realize that my time and energy are finite and can’t simply be maneuvered into giving up space where there is none. When adopting new practices, I start slow and take as much time as I need.
  • I seek out adventures and new experiences.
  • I do not feel bad for “not working.” Play enhances work, and the division between them is not always solid.
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