Creativity At All Costs: The Art of Working With Illness

Creativity at ALL Costs: Making a "Sick Day" Work For You By Alex Landers at OuttaThePlayhouse.com

It is nearly impossible in the traditional work environment we’ve created to let go and nurture ourselves during sickness. We’ve been conditioned to see illness as a block: something to work around, climb over, and run past, in order to return to our highest performing self.

In the process, however, we often pay our bodies, and our minds, a deep disrespect, and consequently, a real disservice. Feeling sick is not a hurdle to jump, nor is it a reason to panic and cease to move. As an immunodeficient person, I’ve had to be creative in my approach to getting sick. Even more so now that my work schedule and allotted “sick days” are my own to manage.

I know not all are blessed with the ability to call in sick when you should (and yes, you should), but we can all promise to take a little better care of ourselves.

With that in mind, here are a few ways I’ve learned not only to cope with illness, but to actually maximize its appearance in my work life.

  • Sleep: Give in to fatigue and let the body rest. This is the hardest step and the necessary first one. When you feel you should be doing other things, letting yourself sleep during the day can be an immense source of guilt. Instead, take comfort in the dreams you may stumble upon in the process; unconscious research for the work you will take on when this has passed.
    We should all be such Nap-Pro's as Daisy Dog. from Creativity at All Costs: Coping with Illness at Work by Alex Landers at OuttaThePlayhouse.com
    Take a cue from the dogs, and take a nap. Daisy, here, is a pro.

    Sleep is restorative, and the dream state is gestation for every creative idea within your brain, so this is the perfect opportunity to get even more of it than usual. And remember: getting well is a project requiring ALL of your available attention.

  • Research: Can’t create? Get inspired. In your waking hours, absorb what’s around you. This doesn’t require a single move from the couch. Flip through magazines, play on Pinterest, read books, watch movies (watch SO many movies).
    Pin Away From Creativity at All Costs: Coping with Illness in Your Work by Alex Landers at OuttaThePlayhouse.com
    I have so many boards on my Pinterest account -endless projects waiting to happen.

    Use your mandated rest time to quietly immerse yourself in all the wonderful, inspiring, pre-existing art already around you. Most of all, do not take for granted this time your body has set aside for you to expand and collect your thoughts. Appreciate your limitations, and use them to your advantage.

  • Meditate: Meditation can sound like a pressure cooker situation wherein you must sit perfectly still, clear your brain of any and all thoughts, and somehow stifle the sneeze that’s been building up in your sinuses for the last two hours. It doesn’t have to be this way. When I meditate, I focus on my breath, my work, my ideas, and my dreams. So long as it isn’t a source of stress, it’s dynamite to meditate on. Choosing an appropriate mantra can help you stay calm and – BONUS – encourage your immune system to get working again. Whatever it is – “I am an artist,” “I need rest,” “I allow myself to let go and get better,” – repeat it out loud, in your head, over and over and, as my YouTube Yoga buddy Adriene likes to say, consider it already done. 

It might seem like I’ve got this “letting myself be sick” thing down, but it’s taken me many years, and much assistance to get here. Therefore, I have a bevy of helpful links and apps (yes! there are SO many apps for that) to get you on your way to feeling good about feeling sick. Explore and use at your leisure 🙂

Mr. Mood – The most basic, wonderful, blissful little digital buddy in the world. Let Mr. Mood check in on you once a day, and let yourself keep track of how you’re feeling. A seriously awesome thing to do for yourself.

Stop, Breathe & Think – Mr. Mood’s more interactive brother. An amazing app for those just starting (or thinking about starting) a meditation practice.

The Wild Unknown Tarot – I turn to my old-fashioned Tarot cards whenever I need to turn a little bit inward. But for those of you on Android phones, my favorite illustrated pack now has a digital counterpart. Check it out for a healing mini-practice when you’re down.

Yoga with Adriene – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this chick is the best there is in online Yoga classes – maybe even trumping going to a class in person. She’ll teach you in a few quick minutes a day how to create and stick to your own home practice. And BONUS – she has specific routines for when you’re sick, stressed, and even suffering a headache.

Coming soon on OuttaThePlayhouse – a long-awaited How-To on creating beautiful (and effective!) art/craft/vendor fair displays.

Creating a Beautiful (and Effective!) Art/Craft/Vendor Display by Alex Landers at OuttaThePlayhouse.com
The Playhouse Traveling Display – a Sneak Peek…

Process #2: Roughing It (with Drafts!)

Create wherever your feel compelled to. In this case, write in my sketchbook next to that monster.

It is Wednesday – not my usual day for posts, but a good middle of the week place to try out this Process Series. Let’s see how it goes, shall we?

As promised, this installment covers my method of starting and working through rough drafts on a new piece. Last week I shared my brainstorming and proposal process for a strange new picture book idea – not my usual fair – and this week, I jumped into actually beginning the writing, and some loose drawing.

Loose, I might add, is sort of my rough draft key word. Yes, this is real writing, not just list making or crafting a pitch. But it’s still the beginnings of something – and quite honestly, this is where the fun should be; discovering what your project really wants to be.

Rough Draft: Write in purple, mark it up in Green - just get it down!
Write in purple, mark it up in green – just get it all down!

Starting with my proposal as a guide, I take off running.

 1. Overwrite Now; Edit Later

The most important thing about writing a rough draft is that it’s not a final draft. Seriously. When in doubt, I remember when I was a tiny person in elementary school (assuming you were there in the early 90’s or earlier – sorry, young millennials) and rough drafts were handwritten in #2 pencil on notebook paper. I can make all the mistakes I want – I’ll be writing this out in cursive and ink again, later (or typing in Word Perfect/ClarisWorks if I’m feeling fancy and have computer time). I don’t read as I go – I just write. When I’m stuck for thoughts tomorrow, I’ll head back and think about starting to make changes.

2. Write How, Where and Whatever You Want

Roughing It: Getting Through the First Draft on OuttaThePlayhouse.com
Create wherever you’re compelled to – in this case, directly inside my sketchbook.

Speaking of handwritten notebook pages – that’s how I write almost every one of my drafts. I like composition notebooks, college ruled, and I like to write with a particular pen (Sharpie Pens are BOSS). Depending on the project, I have found myself drawn to writing on index cards, in sketch books, and yes, typed on the computer like normal 21st century humans. For this picture book, it’s been a mixture of composition book writing and block letters next to drawings in my big sketch book. I say, consider your medium and choose the method that comes most naturally. And same goes for where you’re putting this draft to paper. Since I’ve had a home office, I’ve mostly written at my desk with a cup of tea, music going in the background. But, admittedly, my best writing space for plays and screenplays has always been the coffee shop – I buy a coffee, a pastry, and sit myself down for a fixed amount of time. It’s kind of like being trapped, but with delicious foods, a steady stream of white noise, and your creative thoughts. Other places I’ve found myself most comfortable: the library for research papers (duh), benches outside when writing dialogue, in a car talking into my iPhone recording app. I suppose the pattern is again, consider the medium you’re working with, and go with what best helps inspire you to work.

3. Move Inside the Narrative. 

This is probably the least standard thing I do, but it’s what works for me (again, the theme of this post). I find that allowing myself the freedom to create the parts of the story that are most readily available is the best way to keep the draft going. That often means working outside chronological order. With this piece being poetry, I started writing linearly in order to keep the rhyme scheme, but being stuck on page three, I decided to move on to something new. I jumped from what I thought was the beginning, to what might be the ending, and I know there’s still a whole middle to discover. Not a problem – the main focus of rough drafts for me is to create as much material as possible. When editing later, I’ll puzzle the pieces I have together, and identify the parts that are missing.

Create wherever your feel compelled to. In this case, write in my sketchbook next to that monster.

 

This puzzling concept leads really nicely to Next Week’s Installment: Deviation. There’s nothing dirty about it (unless you want there to be…), just a little friendly exploration to lead you down a path of mystery and discovery. And just like any angsty teenager’s adolescent years, it’s bound to give your story the shape it needs to be interesting when it’s all grown-up.

Do You Draft? How do you get writing, making, painting or creating? What keeps you going? Share, please!  Your comments make me happy, happy, happy!

Process #1: The Proposal

This is the first in what will be an ongoing series, dedicated to the steps of my creative process – hence the creative title, “Process #1.” I find that as a creative working across not only media, but industries (be it writing fiction, stage plays, ad copy, etc.), that oddly enough, my basic process begins, always, in the very same place.

Current Project: A quick sketch
The Project: The initial idea comes from this quick sketch made during a panic attack (I have those – yes, I draw during them). A strange face, a few lines, and I know I have something to work with. Now to do some work to find out where it’s taking me.

First thing’s first: BRAINSTORM. But, then, second thing’s second: ORGANIZE THAT MESS. A brainstorm is just that – a whirlwind of thoughts, ideas, and inevitable garbage dumped all over your work surface. The most important thing I can do is to put those thoughts down, and make them readable.

Whether for a client, or for myself, I always craft a PROPOSAL for my project.

 1. Write it down. Seems simple enough, but it bears repeating – putting my words down on paper affirms to my often stubborn brain that I am serious, and formally acknowledge this project’s existence. These aren’t just plastic bags caught in the wind, circling my head, making a crazy out of me anymore (i.e. that kid in American Beauty) – they’re pieces to a puzzle I intend to solve.

2. What is it? Consider and map all possible CONCEPTS.

When in doubt, map it out! God help you once I start rhyming... Here's what this doodle has provoked.
When in doubt, map it out! (God help you once I start rhyming…)
Here’s what that doodle has provoked.

I start with the abstract and whittle my way to a straight forward, coherent sentence (or two, if I’m feeling long-winded) that will give my idea intention and purpose. That’s where I’ll get the drive to complete the project from. So, what to start with? I begin with that brainstorm, listing any words that relate to the idea, and putting them to paper.

3. What’s your MEDIUM? I am both writer and visual artist; playwright and screenwriter, so I know I have a number of different avenues to choose from. But there is no use in forcing – in my experience, the idea is bound to be suited for a particular medium beyond any other. Does this concept feel like a play? Is it better suited for film? Is it actually a sculpture that would convey my idea best? I go with my gut instinct – and I’m unafraid to do so, because I’m also unafraid to let the concept evolve as I’m working on it. I may start writing an essay, and discover one morning that, actually, I need actors on a stage to get this across. The key for me is to choose something, go with confidence, and be willing to change.

4. Write a FORMAL PROPOSAL.

I’m learning this slowly as I leave both grad school and a typical work-place behind, but just because you don’t have to doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. This absolutely applies to creating a project proposal. Even if it’s only for myself, I take the time to put in writing exactly what it is I anticipate this project to be. And I do the same as I once did when sending it out to countless other people. Whether it’s an abstract, logline, or even just a character breakdown, I make it clear, concise, and to the point. Keep it to a minimum – a sentence or two, a paragraph at most, depending on your medium. Extra points for getting yourself an accountability partner (I started this current project with mine!) and having at least one other person to send it to and give you mad props for being awesomely prepared, hardworking, and duh, BRILLIANT! If it’s hard for you, like it is for me, to cut things down and really get to the meat of the thing (or honestly, just to formally prescribe yourself to actually doing something), REMEMBER: Nothing is set in stone, but everything requires a place to start. The proposal is your starting line.

It all boils down to this. Could it be simpler? (Probably) Will it help me move forward? You bet (Also, #HanxWriter, you guys. Am I right??)
It all boils down to this. Could it be simpler? (Probably) Will it help me move forward? You bet! (Also, #HanxWriter, you guys. Am I right??)

Ready to go? I am. Are there any starting practices that get you prepared to undertake a project? I’d be curious to know what others do to get their ideas in a row? (or ducks!) Please share in the comments! Maybe we can help each other out.

Next Step: Roughing it up. Join me next week for a journey into rough drafts and chicken-scratch*.

*I had this awful math teacher once who insisted all of my work to figure out a problem was chicken-scratch, and so I now lovingly reclaim this word for my own creative purposes, and to her I say, #byefelicia

What I Do All Day: A Creative Freelancer’s Guide

Before we go any further, let me just address what you all must be thinking: this Chick calls herself a “creative professional.” What’s that crap entail? Well, as mentioned, I made it up, so it entails whatever the h*ll I want (that asterisk did a lot for subtlety, yeah?)

But for credibility’s sake, here’s what I do all day; in the name of progressing my Creative, Professional, Career.

So. Punk. Rock.  It's been my line since 13. Why change now?
So. Punk. Rock.
It’s been my line since 13. Why change now?

It’s my job description. With notes.

  1. I start with Yoga. It makes me feel human. And so my bones hurt less. Have you noticed your bones hurt a lot more past 25? I have.
  2. Then I screw around. For thirty minutes, at least. Usually, I pick some music and sing real loud. A lot of times I dance. No one’s here to see that. The joys of working from home. This is seriously the most important part of my day.
  3. I work on my style. This is actually work. I rep for Chloe + Isabel, What I Do All Day: Chloe + Isabel by Me; Alex!
    so I spend time daily designing displays, photographing pieces, marketing myself and my shop, booking Pop-Ups, and helping clients find their way through hoards of gorgeous jewelry. It’s a rough life. I also recently picked up with the lovely Bungalow Clothing, so I get my a** in gear and plan local in-home events for them, as well. Dressing-Room-Delivered is precisely the kind of motto I can get behind at my work-from-home desk. So, I keep up with the Joneses, and drown myself in pretty things all day. This is an okay thing to do for money.

    What I Do All Day: My Chloe + Isabel Display
    Yes, You can shop with me. Your prayers have been answered. Boutique and Styling links are over there in the Sidebar —>
  4. I paint, I write, I create. This is a daily goal. I’ll admit that it doesn’t always occur. I’m a playwright (no really, you can see my work on the New Play Exchange) and aspiring screenwriter – but degree credentials do very little for you in an industry based on who’s reading and who’s watching. I try to write everyday. Even if it’s just a sentence. I started a notebook at the beginning of this year – the 365 notebook – with the intention of writing one word, one sentence, one paragraph, or one page every day. What I Do All Day: The 365 Writing NotebookHave I missed a few? Yes. Have I written a lot? Yes. What matters, mostly, is that I have the thing. Keep your professional goals close, your dreams closer. Or something like that.
  5. Roll up in a ball. As long as we’re being honest – depression happens. Especially when you spend all day by yourself, and are then confronted by those who workhorse their way through a traditional 9 to 5. No matter what you do, some days, it just doesn’t compute as “mission accomplished.” Many afternoons, despite my best efforts, I find myself curled up in the fetal position, inevitably feeling the heavy weight of shame as Pretty Little Liars drones on in the background (if you don’t have an adolescent-soap-opera of a Netflix show to get you through these moments, I don’t believe you).
    What I Do All Day: A Little Self Help Never Hurt Anybody
    Seriously. They don’t. And reading this makes me feel better. So does the monkey.

    Best advice? I try to shake it off. Even as I type that, I’m thinking, Honey, you never just shake it off. It usually requires Van Halen’s Jump on repeat and a trip into the outside world, but it can be done. Lately, just a chapter from a self-help piece of choice can be the kick I need. Either way, employ Opposite Action, friends: if you’re down, get up. And don’t focus on getting back to work (you’ll just roll up tighter). Get back to something you can look forward to.

And you? What’s your play day look like, Creators? I’m curious what the more straight-laced, work-a-day folks are doing with their hours – at home or at the office. More importantly, how the heck do you get of your depressive moments? Share, please! Motivate me! Keep me keeping on!

Telling Stories and The Only Thing I’ve Ever Known

The only thing I’ve ever known for sure about myself is that I could tell a story.

Once a year, we would all sit around a table and read. Together. Out loud. Not everyone is good at this.

Didn’t matter.

Every person at the table would take a turn. You don’t eat until it’s over.
That’s important, because fifty percent of the participants at this event are incredibly slow, deliberate, agonizing readers. A few can’t quite make out the twelve point type. They are very old.
To make up for this misery, the young people attempt to read their portion in a single breath, choking for air halfway through. Someone says, “No rushing.” There is a lot of sighing. Someone inevitably has a laughing fit when there is any sign of chanting, often involving the complicated pronunciation and repetition of the words, “Allelujah. Allelujah.”

There is food at the table; but again, not for eating. We use it as a tool to tell the story. The brick, the mortar, the bitter thing that tastes like this story is supposed to feel. And having it all laid out gives us the added bonus of mounting hunger-pains, so we may feel as though we are starving, and thus identify more readily with our characters.
The children, like myself, are sent to find their own food – tactfully hidden – with the promise of a dollar bill or two (or twenty, if you had gained enough favor with the right old person). A fine way to keep those who find the story too long or too boring or too old, too busy to notice. All so that we may get there. Everyone. Get all of us, to the end.

Then there would be questions. Why do we do this?

So that years later, when that table no longer exists. And the voices are gone. And the people who had them. I can tell you this story – about how we used to tell a story, that someone else had told us each year before, that someone had once told them, and thankfully, someone, somewhere, had written down.

And because of that, I know that if there is nothing else I can do, I can tell a story. This story. So I come to this page and I do what I was taught so many years ago. But being a benevolent individual, I spare you the starvation, and allow you to read at your own pace. To yourself. In your own way.

“Allelujah.”

When we tell a story, at the same time, we live another.
Take Notes – not on the story you’re reading now, but of the details that occur while you’re reading it. The coughs, sneezes, giggles, the accidental curse, or the way an eye rolls when something far too rich is spoken to precisely the wrong person.
All that you gather, you will use again.
In the story you tell.
About the story we told.
Long ago, when I did not know, that I knew how to tell a story.

Creative PeopleTell a story today. Tell one everyday. Maybe pick up that favorite picture book from twenty years ago, that’s in that box hidden in the back of that closet. Read it out loud. Let somebody else hear.

Tell stories, so that we can make new ones.

Telling Stories

How To: Have a Studio Day

1. Drop Everything
2. PLAY 🙂

… But, really:

Turn on Music 
-Make a playlist. Theme it to your project, mood, type of work you want to be making. Your choice of inspo will surely influence your end product.

Make Tea
-Brew something. Anything. Start a ritual. It’ll focus you and you’ll make a routine out of it.

Choose a Focus
-And have two or three others at the ready. Be willing to shift your creativity wherever it wants to go. It will move and evolve – you should let it.

Time it
-All day is a lot of pressure. Limit yourself and watch your work and ideas expand beyond the time allotted. Satisfy your left brain’s urge for a schedule and leave your right side wanting more.

Lose Your Expectations
-Every stroke, letter, note, thought is to be celebrated. Do not discount a single thing you manage. Just go with it.

End with Reflection
-Make a note of it. Your successes. Lingering thoughts of failure. Anything on your mind; get rid of it and feel accomplished.

Welcome to the PLAYHOUSE: We like Fun + Games + Art + Theatre + Movies + Style + Too Many Things for a Title…

It’s a New Year and it’s time for a New Playhouse.

OuttaThePlayhouse ReLaunch: How to Be Creative, Professionally

This may have been more effective on January 1 – the chronological start of 2015. However, between you and me, I don’t really get the gears set in motion for at least a few weeks in, so as for my New Year, it starts now. February 1st. When I’m really ready for it. Or, as ready as I’m going to be.

… Basically, we’re in it, it’s happened, I can’t get out of it. So here we go.

In sifting through everything I’ve read about blogging and branding and setting up the ideal Facebook page, I know that constantly changing your theme, mission statement, goals, look, opinions, is a terrible, terrifying, totally stupid idea. Therefore, that’s exactly what I want to do. Change. Screw up. Make a mess. Because I can.

… That’s a real bratty, Chicky-Baby sort of thing to do. Guess I am on brand after all.

So today, on February 1st, 2015, I announce the Unofficial Official ReLaunch (hereby known as the UORL – please pronounce that as an actual word) of a blog I started almost a year ago to help myself feel like a real, honest-to-God working professional. And I notice, despite its (many) inconsistencies, that it did manage to do exactly that: make me feel professional. 

And so I digress (I ALWAYS want to say that): what about this Playhouse makes me, a child in slightly larger children’s clothing, feel professional? Is it the routine? The pretending to have something important to teach all of you? Using an alter-ego borrowed from The PuppetLand Band to free myself? Is it having readers? Followers? (CREEPY) It certainly can’t be that what I do all day – which I’ve essentially branded as playing – is, actually, a profession?

Is creativity a job?

Can work, which I hate, be replaced with play?

And that’s how I came up with my new(ish) mission statement for OuttaThePlayhouse. Let me pitch it to you:

Playhouse Rules

by Chicky Baby (aka Alex)

I want this Playhouse to be a creative, imaginative, boisterous, *rock ‘n roll*, LOUD, off-the-wall, shiny, brand-new, unafraid, Brave and F**king FUN place to be. Rules of the Playhouse: Expect Creativity in All FormsLet this be the CBGB’s of the internet! A blog for the #hardcore punk-rocker in each of you. Come here when you want to explore, engage + rediscover the artist you were born to be. Put your hands in the air, wave them like you just don’t care, and realize that all work and no play DOES make you a dull boy and you must quit that s**t, ASAP.

Don’t think you can? Man got you down? I invite you over to play. Let the Chick and OuttathePlayhouse show you how to make everyday one big, bold, and professional, playdate. From here on out, let OTP (you down with OTP?) be your go-to destination for:

  • Creative Advice
  • Storytelling + Anecdotes
  • Van Halen Inspiration (No, really. This is a thing.)
  • Artist/Maker/Creator Introductions
  • Works in Progress
  • Really Cool Outfits
  • Things I Think You, Playmate, Should Know (I am your Chick, after all)
  • And, probably, more. Lots more.

So, this leaves you all thinking (#wtf #crazychick #yikes):

What can you expect?

Expect regular posts. Regular ideas. Irregular thoughts. With regular attitude. And, naturally;

Expect the unexpected.

Now, if that hasn’t explained everything to you – Good. Prepare to find out a lot more about me. And hopefully, a lot more about your creative self.

Happy 2015, Playmates. See you soon.

-Chick